Marriage, Desire and Divorce in Early Modern Literature - EN669

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
6 30 (15) DR R Cox




Not available as wild



This module focuses on the theory and practice of marriage and divorce in early modern England and its treatment in the literature of the period. Examining a wide range of texts (drama, poetry, prose works and domestic handbooks alongside documentary sources such as wills, legal records and letters), it will explore the ways in which representations of marriage and its breakdown both reflected and informed the roles of men and women in early modern society. The relationships between discourses about gender, politics and the historical evidence about men and women's married lives in the period will be explored both through reading in the extensive secondary literature of gender, women's history and masculinity as well as through the study of primary sources such as wills, court records, advice books, popular literature (ballads and pamphlets, for example), literary texts (poems, plays and tracts), diaries and personal memoirs and material objects such as wedding rings and scold’s bridles, for example. From Shakespeare and Fletcher's dramas of happy and unhappy marriage and Spenser's poetry of marital bliss, to argument surrounding men and women's roles in marriage in the poetry and pamphlets of Milton and his contemporaries, we will also go in search of the personal accounts of women and men's experiences of marriage and its breakdown and the material artefacts which are testament to them.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

10 x two-hour seminars and 10 x one-hour lectures/research activities

Method of assessment

100% coursework: 65% long essay of 4000 words, 25% research report of 2000 words, 10% seminar participation

Indicative reading

William SHAKESPEARE - 'The Taming of the Shrew'/'Othello'
Rachel SPEGHT - 'A Mouzell for Melastomus'
William GOUGE - 'Of Domesticall Duties'
John FLETCHER - 'The Tamer Tam'd'
Aemilia LANYER - 'Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum'
John MILTON - 'The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce'

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following subject specific learning outcomes:

• Demonstrate an informed understanding of a range of literary and non-literary representations of marriage and divorce in the period be able to evaluate their historical value critically:
• Demonstrate a knowledge of some of the major issues involved in debates about marriage and its breakdown in early modern literature and culture;
• Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the religious, political, legal and cultural contexts of marriage and divorce in the period;
• Demonstrate an understanding of the nature and significance of gender to early modern English society and culture.
• Demonstrate a critical awareness of the complex ways in which texts engage with their cultural contexts;
• Demonstrate an ability to distinguish between different modes of writing and a developing capacity for critical analysis of each

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following generic learning outcomes:

• application of the skills needed for academic study and enquiry
• ability to synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding of theory and practice; ability to synthesise material from a number of sources in a coherent creative whole
• the ability to frame oral criticism of diverse sources sensitively and constructively
• develop powers of communication and the capacity to argue a point of view, orally and in written form, with clarity, organisation and cogency
• enhance confidence in the efficient presentation of ideas designed to stimulate critical debate
• competence in the planning and execution of essays and project-work and in the conception, planning, execution and editing of individual creative work
• enhanced skills in collaborative intellectual or creative work, including more finely tuned listening and questioning skills
• the ability to understand, interrogate and apply a variety of theoretical positions and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives

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