Module Identifier ENM1120  
Academic Year 2006/2007  
Co-ordinator To Be Arranged  
Semester Intended for use in future years  
Next year offered N/A  
Next semester offered N/A  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   5 x 2-hour seminars  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Assessment Essay: 1 x 5,000 word 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. 


Brief description


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

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 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

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

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

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?

Reading Lists

** Should Be Purchased
Edmund Spenser Poetical Works Oxford University Press: OR
Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Penguin or Longman
John Milton Comus Oxford University Press
John Milton Paradise Lost Longman
John Milton Selected Prose Penguin


This module is at CQFW Level 7