Module Identifier EN35820  
Academic Year 2007/2008  
Co-ordinator Dr Jayne Archer  
Semester Semester 2  
Other staff Mr Michael J Smith  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   10 x 2 hour seminars  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Assessment 1 X 2,500 WORD ESSAY Practice session to take place end week one/beginning week 2. Examination, end week 2/beginning week 3. Half to one day dependent on number of students.  60%
Supplementary Assessment AN ESSAY ON A NEW TOPIC to be submitted in the event of failure in the essay assignment  60%
Supplementary Assessment 15 MINUTE SCRIPT ON A NEW TOPIC WITH ACCOMPANYING VISUALS, written as if for delivery, to be submitted in the event of failure in the oral presentation  40%

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the set texts, and an informed awareness of their relationship to early modern magical and quasi-scientific discourses.

Articulate this knowledge and awareness in the form of a reasoned critical analysis of particular texts.

Relate the texts studied to early modern debates about society, politics, and religion, and show how magical and quasi-scientific discourses reflect and engage in these debates.

Explain and engage with relevant aspects of recent critical and/or theoretical debates about the texts studied.

Articulate some of their findings in the form of an oral presentation.


This module complements and extends the study of the cultural, social, and historical contexts of Renaissance literature undertaken in the second-year core module Medieval and Renaissance Writing. It also complements a number of Level 2 and Level 3 modules, including Arthurian Literature, Shakespeare and Jonson, and Renaissance Women and Writing.

Brief description

Literary texts of the English Renaissance betray the strong influence of magical and quasi-scientific discourses. This module looks at the rich and diverse relationship between Renaissance literary texts and the discourses of magic across a range of genres, including drama, poetry, masques, and prose. In two introductory seminars, the significance of magic in Renaissance society and culture are explored, and theological and political responses to magic and the figure of the magus are examined. In succeeding weeks, four broad categories of magical knowledge and practice - fairy lore, witchcraft, alchemy, and natural philosophy - are considered. Each seminar explores the ways in which these discourses function in the presentation of literary creativity, authorship, and narrative and generic structures in the specified text or texts. The presentation of magical discourses in these texts is interpreted within appropriate historical contexts, and students are encouraged to identify the ways in which magic functioned as a vehicle through which contemporary social, religious, and political issues could be examined and contested. In the final two seminars, concerning natural philosophy, the emergence of scientific discourse and the 'decline' of magic in the first half of the seventeenth century is considered and questioned.


Teaching will be by ten two-hour seminars, and will make regular use of small-group presentations.

Seminar 1. Introduction 1: Charms, Spells, and Sigils: Renaissance Discourses of Magic.
To include extracts from magical receipt books, books of secrets, emblem books, royal proclamations, and religious and historical writings in defence of magic.   

Seminar 2. Introduction 2: Introduction to oral presentations, and an introduction to the figure of the magus in Renaissance England.
Robert Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (circa 1591)

Seminar 3. Fairy Lore 1.
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1594/96).

Seminar 4. Fairy Lore 2.
Michael Drayton, Nimphidia, The Court of Faery (1627).

Seminar 5. Witchcraft 1.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth (c. 1603).

Seminar 6. Witchcraft 2.
Thomas Dekker, William Rowley, and John Ford, The Witch of Edmonton (1621).

Seminar 7. Alchemy 1.
Ben Jonson, The Masques of Blacknesse (1606) and Beautie (1609).

Seminar 8. Alchemy 2.
Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (1610).

Seminar 9. Natural Philosophy 1.
Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night (1594).

Seminar 10. Natural Philosophy 2.
Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis (1626/27).

Module Skills

Problem solving by developing evaluative analysis and critical skills and by formulating and conducting a detailed argument  
Research skills by relating literary texts to historical contexts and by synthesizing information in an evaluative argument  
Communication oral communication through group discussions and presentations  
Improving own Learning and Performance through independent reading and research  
Team work through group presentations  
Information Technology through powerpoint presentations.  
Personal Development and Career planning by critical self-reflection and through the development of transferable communication and research skills.  
Subject Specific Skills Detailed critical/theoretical analysis of literary texts and evaluation of broad intellectual concepts.  

Reading Lists

** Essential Reading
(July 2001) Macbeth 2nd ed.,Revised. Arden Shakespeare, The [Imprint] 9781903436486
Corbin, Peter (Dec. 1999) The Witch of Edmonton Manchester University Press 9780719052477
Johnson, Ben (June 2004) The Alchemist 2nd ed.. A & C Black 9780713671049
More, Thomas (1999.) Utopia /Thomas More. New Atlantis / Francis Bacon. The Isle of Pines / Henry Neville ; edited with an introduction and notes by Susan Bruce. Oxford University Press 0192838857
Shakespeare, William (2003 (various p) A midsummer night's dream /edited by R.A. Foakes. Updated ed.. Cambridge University Press 0521532477
** Recommended Background
Briggs, Robin. (2002.) Witches and neighbours :the social and cultural context of European witchcraft /Robin Briggs. Blackwell Publishers 0631233261
Clark, Stuart. (1997.) Thinking with demons :the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe /Stuart Clark. Clarendon Press 0198200013
Eamon, William. (c1994.) Science and the secrets of nature :books of secrets in medieval and early modern culture /William Eamon. Princeton University Press 0691034028ACIDFREEPAPER
Mebane, John S. (c1989.) Renaissance magic and the return of the Golden Age :the occult tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare /John S. Mebane. University of Nebraska Press 0803231334
Nicholl, Charles (1980) The Chemical Theatre Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated 0710005156TRADECLOTHOUTOFPRINT
Purkiss, Diane (1996.) The witch in history : early modern and twentieth-century representations /Diane Purkiss. Routledge 0415087627PBK
Purkiss, Diane (2000.) Troublesome things :a history of fairies and fairy stories /Diane Purkiss. Allen Lane 071399312X
Thomas, Keith (1973.) Religion and the decline of magic :studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England /[by] Keith Thomas. Penguin
Webster, Charles (1975.) The great instauration :science, medicine and reform, 1626-1660 /Charles Webster. Duckworth 0715608789
Woolley, Benjamin. (2002, c2001.) The Queen's conjuror :the life and magic of Dr Dee /Benjamin Woolley. Flamingo 0006552021PBK


This module is at CQFW Level 6