Marriage, Desire and Divorce in Early Modern Literature - ENGL6690

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


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.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 32
Private study hours: 268
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

100% coursework:

Essay of 4000 words (65%)
Research report of 2000 words (25%)
Seminar participation (10%)

Indicative reading

More, Thomas, (1516) Utopia
Shakespeare, William, (1594) The Taming of the Shrew / Othello
Lanyer, Aemilia, (1611) Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
Speght, Rachel, (1617) A Mouzell for Melastomus
Gouge, William, (1622) Of Domesticall Duties
Milton, John, (1643) The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce
Anon. (1632) The Laws Resolution of Women's Rights
Astell, Mary, (1703) Some Reflections Upon Marriage

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. 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
2. Demonstrate a knowledge of some of the major issues involved in debates about marriage and its breakdown in early modern literature and culture
3. Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the religious, political, legal and cultural contexts of marriage and divorce in the period
4. Demonstrate an understanding of the nature and significance of gender to early modern English society and culture.
5. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the complex ways in which texts engage with their cultural contexts
6. Demonstrate an ability to distinguish between different modes of writing and a developing capacity for critical analysis of each

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate application of the skills needed for academic study and enquiry
2. Synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding of theory and practice, and to synthesise material from a number of sources in a coherent creative whole
3. Frame criticism of diverse sources sensitively and constructively
4. Demonstrate powers of communication and the capacity to argue a point of view, orally or in written form, with clarity, organisation and cogency
5. Show confidence in the efficient presentation of ideas designed to stimulate critical debate
6. Demonstrate competence in the planning and execution of essays and project-work and in the conception, planning, execution and editing of individual creative work
7. Demonstrate enhanced skills in collaborative intellectual or creative work, including more finely tuned listening and questioning skills
8. Understand, interrogate and apply a variety of theoretical positions and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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