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Greening the Renaissance. Theology, Science & the Natural World, 1600-1700 - ENG00127M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Freya Sierhuis
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

The mid-seventeenth century witnessed a revolution both in science and politics, and the idea of ‘nature’ was right at the centre of both. In this module, we will be looking at nature both as a philosophical idea, as a universal principle, as a set of laws, or as God’s handmaiden. We will be reading a broad range of genres, as well as studying visual material, such as emblems, paintings, and garden designs. We will be examining how ideas about nature are often inextricably bound up with questions about political power and control, gender relations, yet are at the same time expressive of a yearning for a lost Edenic state of innocence. At the same time, we will be discovering a range of avatars of modern-day discussions in the early modern debates on vegetarianism, animal souls, and animal rights.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module is to gain a historicized understanding of the meaning of ‘nature’ as a key term in philosophical, theological and scientific discourses in the seventeenth century, as well as being able to chart the most significant changes taking places during that century. The module will equip you with a good grasp of Christian accounts of creation, as well as of some of the competing, heterodox cosmologies available during this time, and will enable you to trace their complex interactions, and their impact on the literary production of the period. You will learn to recognise and analyse the genres of writing about nature, including natural history, pastoral, the country house poem, chorography and travel narrative. You will study some of the classics of Green Renaissance historiography, as well as a selection of more recent scholarship, helping you to gain an overview of these still-evolving debates 

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:
1.    Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the philosophical, theological and scientific understandings of nature in the early modern period. 
2.    Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the different discourses and genres in which nature is discussed, from pastoral poetry to emblematics, mythology and natural history, and to be able to contextualize them.
3.    To have understood the different critical approaches current in the field of green Renaissance studies, including cultural materialist, feminist, and post-humanist, and to be able to weigh their respective advantages and disadvantages. 
4.    Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
4500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4500 word essay
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 module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  

Indicative reading

Plato, Timaeus

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

Arthur Golding, Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Joshua Sylvester, Du Bartas his Divine Works and Days

Edmund Spenser, The Mutabilitie Cantos

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book V and VIII

Thomas Browne, The Garden of Cyrus

Margaret Cavendish, ‘The Hunting of the Hare’ and other poems

Plutarch, On the Eating of Meat; Isis and Osiris

Ben Johnson, ‘To Penshurst’

Andrew Marvell, ‘Upon Appleton House’; the ‘mower poems’

Aemilia Lanyer, ‘The Description of Cookham’

John Evelyn, Sylva and Diary

Maria Sybilla Merian, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium

William Cavendish, A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses and Work them according to Nature.

Robert Boyle, Considerations touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy; A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature

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.