Module Information

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

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 20 Hours. Seminar. (10 x 2 hr seminar workshops)


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 2 essays (2,500 words each)  Continuous Assessment:  100%
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 completion of this module students should typically be able to:

1. outline some of the ways in which critics have sought to distinguish between the genres of epic and romance, and assess the practical validity of these distinctions;

2. demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the set texts, and an informed awareness of their relationship to the generic traditions of epic and romance;

3. articulate this knowledge and awareness in the form of a reasoned critical analysis of particular texts;

4. locate the texts studied in appropriate historical, and/or cultural contexts, and discuss the impact of an awareness of such contexts on interpretation;

5. explain and engage with relevant aspects of recent scholarly, critical and/or theoretical debates about the texts studied.


This module aims:

1. to develop the student's knowledge and understanding of two major traditions within English literary history;

2. to provide students with a knowledge and understanding of the continuing history of debates about the genres of epic and romance.

Brief description

This module offers students a chance to get to know some major works of English literature that there is no time to study in detail in the more crowded core period module, and to locate these works within their wider European literary contexts.

We will begin by an investigation of the late Anglo-Saxon heroic poem Beowulf (which we will study principally in the recent and much acclaimed translation by Seamus Heaney). The module will then turn to a consideration of the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, a reworking of the materials of knightly romance through the medium of allegory into a national epic, which engages with important religious and political conflicts of the late sixteenth-century English state. The module will conclude with an extended study of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, which we will consider both as a deliberate and self-conscious reworking of established traditions of heroic poetry, and as a 'working out' in narrative form of the political, social and religious tensions of one of the most exciting and challenging periods of British history, the Civil War and its aftermath.

Since the traditions of epic and romance in our extended period are truly international ones, there will be, in addition, several opportunities to sample (in translation) relevant works from other European literatures: we will, for instance, study Beowulf alongside extracts (provided) from the Old French chanson de geste The Song of Roland; and we will compare Spenser's handling of romance narrative with episodes from the sixteenth-century Italian romantic epics Orlando Furioso (by Ariosto) and Gierusalemme Liberata (by Tasso).

Some of the principal recurrent questions we will address include:

  • what are the characteristics of the genres of epic and romance, and how distinct from each other are they?
  • how are the genres of epic and romance transformed in response to changing political and social circumstances?
  • are these narratives more concerned with the heroic deeds of individuals, or are they fables of wider significance, fictions that offer definitions of national or cultural identity?
  • is it true that epic is a primarily masculine genre and romance a feminine one?



Teaching will be by ten two-hour seminars. Students will regularly be asked to prepare brief presentations, usually in teams of three or four.

_Seminars 1 - 3: Anglo-Saxon Heroic Poetry

  • Main text: Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney
_Seminars 4 - 6: Elizabethan Romantic Epic

  • Main text: Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book II (in Payne and Hunter OR in Roche and O'Donnell: see Bibliography
_Seminars 7 - 10: Revolutions in Seventeenth-Century Epic

  • Main text: John Milton, Paradise Lost


This module is at CQFW Level 6