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Thinking Forms in Early Modern Texts: Abstraction, Particularity, Race-making - ENG00106H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Namratha Rao
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

Forms are plural, various in kind and scale, sliding from isolated metaphor or verbal echo to a synonym for the ‘body’, or even ‘institution’. In discussing the politics of form, Caroline Levine emphasizes form’s capaciousness and its functional range. It often involves conflicting categories: immaterial Idea and material shape, essence and ornament, abstract and particular, contingent and ahistorical. Forms can demarcate and constrain (think of Milton on the bondage of rhyming); they can overlap, coalesce and clash; they can traverse time, space and medium. Moreover, forms both shape and are shaped by their materials. Drama provides an obvious example of reciprocal literary and material mediations: how might tragic form inflect and be altered by casting and costuming, acoustics and occasion? How might the breezily summarising arguments of Spenser’s Faerie Queene engage with its continued allegorical poetics? In this module, we will collectively think through the violence and self-scrutiny of abstraction in allegory, the particularity, embarrassing artificiality and intimacy of lyric, and the animating, opportunistic inconsistencies of drama’s forms in race-making.

We may, at times, reconsider an author or text across our broad formal divisions in order to trace miniature textual or authorial arcs within the broader sweeps of form, embodiment, thinking and feeling. This module will show how historically sensitive, critical attention to form necessitates learning and combining a variety of approaches from expanding fields such as affect and critical race studies.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module has three principal and related aims. The first is to examine a selection of strange and inventive early modern English texts – chiefly poetry and drama – paying special attention to interlocking questions of embodiment and identity, feeling and cognition, and embeddedness and intersubjectivity. The second is to explore how the early modern texts we consider allow new ways in which to approach the renewed interest in historically informed formalism, and the critical affordances of form, that has animated literary studies in recent years. Broadly speaking, we are interested in the modes of being and kinds of thinking that are implied and enabled, concealed and curtailed, by the literary and material forms we consider. To this end, our enquiry will open with and be grounded in close readings of primary texts, informed both by ancient and early modern sources and intertexts and contemporary theoretical accounts. The selected forms (allegory, lyric, drama) will guide us, but will inevitably include, intersect with, and be disrupted by others. The third and final aim is to develop a critical practice that analyses both how aesthetic forms are implicated in the making of race, and how they might be used to interrogate and subvert this process.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of early modern literary and non-literary texts

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with new formalist methods and with classical and contemporary theoretical texts concerning histories of embodiment, affect and race-making

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with form, embodiment, race and affect

  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Primary texts, in full or in extract, by Philip Sidney, George Puttenham, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, John Marston, John Donne, Edward Herbert, Mary Wroth, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Hester Pulter, Margaret Cavendish

Sources and intertexts, in extract, from e.g. Hippocratic writings, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Ovid, Augustine, Michel de Montaigne, Torquato Tasso, William Camden, Francis Bacon, John Bulwer

Theoretical writings by e.g. T. W. Adorno, Sylvia Wynter, Marjorie Levinson, Christina Sharpe

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.