Module Information

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

Course Delivery

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


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 5000 word essay 100%  100%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module students should be able to:
1 demonstrate a critical understanding of a range of texts ( as well as material objects and visual images) concerned with lives and life writing in medieval & renaissance England (and Wales).

2 demonstrate awareness of the political, social, and cultural contexts of these texts

3 discuss critically the broad theoretical issues emerging from an analysis of the relationships between lives, life writing, and the representation of lives in different forms of 'text'

4 develop specialised skills in the reading and interpretation of primary sources from the medieval and renaissance period

5 develop a critical understanding of modern modes of representing medieval and renaissance lives


1) Introduction
This session will provide an introduction to the study of medieval & renaissance lives. We will discuss the range of surviving evidence, and begin to examine the diferent analytical skills required to understand different forms and genres of literary text, dramatic performance, visual image, material object. We will begin by exploring the fact that the study of this subject involves considering a broad range of evidence, and examine this fact in relation to a consideration of the course's use of specific texts as examples. We will also examine the historiography of medieval and renaissance lives taking, as particular examples, two works written from within different critical traditions: H.S. Bennett's Six Medieval Men and Women (1955) and Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (1980).

2) Personal Lives:
Example of Key Texts. The Paston Letters, The Commonplace Book of Eleanor Hull, Henry Unton's Biographical Portrait
This session will explore a selection of texts including: diaries, letters (eg. Pastons, Celys), commonplace books and portraiture (eg Henry Unton's Biographical Portrait, c.1597). We will discuss the nature of these 'texts' and how they relfect on and represent the experience of daily life. And consider how and why these types of 'life writing' provide evidence for identity, aspiration, and experience. Much of the surviving evidence for personal lives was produced and used by the wealthier / more elite members of medieval and renaissance society. We will therefore begin to address some of the important considerations concerning identity, life, life writing and social status in this period.

3) Performing Lives
Example of Key Texts. William Cornish, Troilus and Pandarus, Anon. Enterlude of Godly Queen Hester, The Monument and Monumental text of John Aunsell
This session will look at two important and contrasting forms of textual evidence for the performance of lives: momuments and pageantry. The first is specifically concerned with the posthumous representation of life; and the second is specifically concerned with performance and the staging of lives. We will examine examples of monuments, for both men and women, to analyse their uses of sign, symbol, text, and image in the process of displaying and representing life, achievement, status and identity. We will examine specific examples of court pageantry, especially that of the Tudor Royal Households, such as for example the William Cornish's Troilus and Pandarus, and The Castle of Esperancea, and other popular interludes such as The Enterlude of Godly Queen Hester, in order to elicit the relationships between dramatic text, performance and the performance of identity. The contrasts between these two forms of evidence for performing lives raise a range of conceptual and theoretical questions which we will discuss.

4) Popular Lives
Example of Key Texts. The Legenda Aurea, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, The Duchess of Suffolk (Deloney)
This session will examine the surviving evidence for the lives of ordinary medieval and renaissance people both in terms of how they wrote about their own lives ( eg testamentary writing) and also in terms of the kinds of life accounts which were available to them (such as medieval saints' lives, stories about remarkable lives in Foxe's Book of Martyrs and pamphlets about women martyrs eg. 'The Duchess of Suffolk' (Deloney, 1624)). There is plentiful evidence for 'popular lives' in the renaissance allthough it has been relatively overlooked in modern scholarship. We will examine why this is the case and what new research may be undertaken to redress this.

5) Biography and the Historical Novel
Example of Key Texts. Anya Seton, Katherine, Tracey Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl, Terry Jones, Medieval Lives
In this session we will employ the knowledge gained in previous seminars (of primary sources and of theoretical approaches) in or

Brief description

This module explores lives and life writing in medieval and renaissance England (and Wales) by detailed consideration of literary and material evidence from the period, c. 1400-1650. The conceptual basis of the module is the need to 're-think' 'self fashioning', as it has become popularly conceived post-Greenblatt (1980).
You will develop your own theoretical position(s) on the concept of lives and of self fashioning by introducing and enabling critical consideration of theoretical approaches to lives, self fashioning and life writing drawn from literary and cultural studies


What is a life? How were medieval and renaissance lives represented through text and object? How do these representations impinge on medieval and renaissance perceptions of life and identity? What is biography? How are past lives represented now? This module will address these questions by examining, in detail a selection of the wide variety of evidence for renaissance lives, such as: diaries, letters, monuments, life stories, testaments, saints' lives, pageants, portraits &c.

The module is organised in five themed sessions, beginning with an introduction to current scholarly debates in this field, followed by four sessions which each consider an important category of evidence for medieval & renaissance lives. In each session we will assess the relative merits of modern critical approaches to this evidence, in order that you will develop your skills in close reading and your own critical position. The fifth session will draw on these skills and on knowledge of the medieval & renaissance evidence in order to critically assess the merits of modern representations of medieval & renaissance lives in writing, TV, and film.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Communication Group discussion and presentations of findings
Improving own Learning and Performance Independent research
Information Technology Use of EEBO (Early English Books Online)
Personal Development and Career planning Through transferable and communication skills
Problem solving Developing analytical techniques and critical skills and by formulating and conducting and extended analytical argument
Research skills Developing skills in the reading and interpretation of medieval and renaissance text; and by developing skills in relating the historical context of production and reception to that interpretation
Subject Specific Skills Detailed critical analysis of literary text alongside other forms of cultural production (image, object); specific skills in analysis of medieval & renaissance evidence


This module is at CQFW Level 7