Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 5 x 2-hour seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 5,000 word essay  Essay: 
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected. 

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:


The works of Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599) and John Milton (1608-74) are rarely studied in detail on undergraduate modules because of their complexity and length. Nevertheless both writers played crucial roles not only in the development of the historical canon of English Literature but also in radical and oppositional British politics, Spenser as an English Protestant in Ireland, Milton as a republican activist, theorist and regicide.

This module seeks to introduce students with some familiarity with English Renaissance Literature to the literary and political writings of both authors and to look at the relationship between both writers: Milton acknowledged Spenser as his precursor, but resisted his influence in abadoning early plans to write an epic on the subject of King Arthur - as Spenser had done - in favour of a Biblical one. The aim will be to read substantial passages together so that the ways in which kinds of narrative work can be appreciated, especially the relationship between literary and non-literary texts. How closely must we relate Spenser's poetry to the events of Ireland in the last decades of Elizabeth's reign? Can we only read Milton's poetry in terms of the English Civil War? Both sought to be actively involved in politics and wrote substantial treatises about matters of state. These will be read in terms of their poetic work in order to consider such questions. We will try to determine what effect genre has upon the content of writing or whether content can be extracted from form without violently rupturing sense.

Other topics covered will include: sexual and political equality; the politics of genre and verse form: the development of English Protestant literature; literature and national identity; epic and allegory.

_Seminar 1: Protestantism and Allegory

  • "The Faerie Queene", Books 1, 6 & 7.
How does the allegorical narrative of "The Faerie Queene" work? Are the oppositions between truth and falsehood announced at the start of the text sustainable throughout? Is Spenser in control of his work, and, if not, are his Protestant poetics undermined?

_Seminar 2: Iconociasm and Sexuality

  • "The Faerie Queene", Books 2 & 3.
The concept of aesthetic enjoyment was often a problem for Protestants, particularly as it related to sexual expression. Could earthly delights be consumed without guilt, or did virtue consist solely in obeying God's commandments? We shall explore Spenser's responses to such questions in his poetic narrative.

_Seminar 3: Spenser and Ireland

  • "The Faerie Queene", Book 5; "A View of the Present State of Ireland".
Spenser spent the last twenty years of his life as a colonial official in Ireland and published virtually all of his major work whilst he was here. By reading his unpublished prose tract on Ireland against his explicit allegorisation of Elizabethan politics in his epic poem, we shall explore the relationship between the two and ask whether it is possible to read "The Faerie Queene" without an awareness of its Irish context.

_Seminar 4: Liberty and Libertarianism

  • "Comus" and Areopagitica.
Companion seminar to 2. How does Milton deal with the question of earthly liberty and the use of pagan learning? Are his answers different to Spenser's? A possible response to his predecessor?

_Seminar 5: Narrating the Fall

  • "Paradise Lost".
Milton's epic, like Spenser's, a revolutionary work in both form and content, is a massive expansion of the first few verses of "Genesis". We will explore Milton's possible motives for undertaking his bold and innovative project and look at his respresentation of men, women, angels and Gods. Is there an inherent clash between the rigid hierarchies of God's universe and Milton's democratic learnings? Was Milton really of the devil's party as Blake claimed?


This module is at CQFW Level 7