Accessibility statement

Literature and Politics in Early Modern England

Tutor: John Cooper

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00023M

This course looks at major themes in English political, cultural and intellectual history from the accession of Henry VIII to the early seventeenth century. This was the age of the printing press, the Reformation, and the English Renaissance. Then as now, poetry and drama were produced to amuse and entertain. But writing fulfilled many other functions in early modern England. Poets used their craft both to influence the exercise of political power, and to shelter from the dangers of life at court. Governments commissioned printed propaganda to foster obedience and condemn rebellion. Books became the battleground between the traditional Catholic religion and the new Protestant faith. This course has a dual agenda: to place literary texts in their historical context; and to question when, and how, they may be used as historical evidence. 

The likely seminar programme is as follows:

    • Introduction: Renaissance history and literature
    • Humanism and Utopia
    • Poetry and politics at Henry VIII’s court
    • Ideas of obedience and hierarchy
    • Praising Elizabeth
    • History plays: Marlowe and Shakespeare
    • Censorship, Stubbs and the Gaping Gulf
    • Jonson: from court to country
    • Print and people


Preliminary Reading

  • Walker, Greg. Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Cummings, Brian. The Literary Culture of the Reformation:Grammar and Grace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Brigden, Susan. New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors, 1485-1603. Harmondsworth: Allen Lane, 2000.