Study Abroad and Exchanges



SEL3385 : Myth and Magic: Inventing the Past in Renaissance England (Inactive)

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module will introduce students to the following topics:

History and Fiction in Renaissance Writing (including genres of history: chronicle, complaint, epic, tragedy, pamphlets, ballads)

The Politics of Prophecy

The Making of National Heroes and Villains (Robin Hood, King Arthur, Guy of Warwick, Richard III)

Ancient British Origin Myths and National Identity (religion, Tudor myth, putative Union with Scotland under James I)

Women’s History Writing (poetry, prose and translation)

Medievalism (Renaissance reception and construction of the Middle Ages, chivalry and courtliness, medieval literary form and language)

Readership (book history and reading practices, gendered histories)

Analysis of texts in prose and verse, by poets such as Edmund Spenser and Michael Drayton, dramatists William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, and less canonical Tudor and Jacobean writers and chroniclers.

Outline Of Syllabus

The sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw a flurry of British myth-making, as writers and historians of all kinds raced to define their country’s identity by reinventing its past. Following catastrophic religious and political upheaval under Henry VIII and Mary I, Elizabethan writers in particular strove to offer a fixed narrative of national triumph, but struggled when confronted with lost records, biased accounts and ruined monuments. The poetry and drama of the period expresses a deep anxiety about lost national identity, and seeks to plug this gap by creating new myths, and reshaping old stories.
This module asks students to examine how Renaissance writers negotiated the question of historical fact and fiction. The hazy boundaries between history and fiction in the period gave writers the freedom to embellish historical narratives for their own cultural ends, and the module will provide students with the tools to unlock the ways in which genre, form and style contribute to such projects. They will develop their close reading skills through practical exercises in seminars, and build on these by using close critical analysis to draw links between texts and the wider contexts introduced in lectures and explored through independent study. They will also be encouraged to consider ways in which historical contexts inform and complicate their understanding of literary texts, by tracing the evolution of key national myths in response to changing historical circumstances.
The module will focus on a series of influential texts by major Renaissance authors such as Spenser and Shakespeare, but students will also engage actively with non-canonical voices including female historiographers and poets, and balladeers. Using digital resources such as Early English Books Online to access a wide range of Renaissance texts, students will interrogate the relationship between political power, textual authority and the construction of historical truth.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion134:0034:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading180:0080:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching122:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study138:0038:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will offer students detailed introductions to key concepts and approaches, as well as demonstrations of how to explore primary texts. Seminar-based teaching will give them practical experience of close textual analysis, and develop their understanding and interpersonal skills through discussion with their peers and interactive activities. Student-led activity (study groups) will encourage leadership, collaboration and initiative.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2A70End of module essay (3000 words)
Written exercise2M30Close-reading and comparison exercise (1000 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The close-reading and comparison exercise will ask the students to analyse an extract from one of their core texts, and compare and contrast the extract with a set unseen passage on a related topic. Students should comment on similarities and differences of approach to the texts’ shared themes, by analysing how their authors use techniques such as imagery, rhyme and metre where relevant, and rhetorical devices, to situate their work within literary traditions and genres or deviate from them.
For the end of module essay, the students will choose one question from a selection of questions based on the material they have studied during the course.
The essay will ask that students consider broad themes and connections between texts studied, taking contextual information into account where appropriate. It will assess their knowledge and understanding of the material, their ability to situate this material in its cultural context, and their essay writing skills. The close-reading exercise will complement this task by developing students’ ability to read and analyse primary texts in detail, and will demonstrate sustained critical scrutiny of two shorter pieces of text.

Reading Lists