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The University of Southampton

ENGL2099 The Renaissance Body

Module Overview

In this module, students will explore a wealth of different texts and different discourses, from the literary to the scientific, on humanity and the human body in the English Renaissance. Starting with a glimpse of ancient and modern visions of the body, we will then discuss classic aspects of the subject from the humours and scientific anatomy to manners and the supernatural, sex and death. As well as thinking about the body, the students will be introduced to a controlled variety of textual genres, e.g., scientific and philosophical treatises, didactic verse, a burlesque satire, essays, plays, etc. In addition the students will encounter (and be encouraged to challenge) some classic theorists, such as Bakhtin, Elias and Laqueur. In all classes, the students will be pushed to think about how seventeenth-century attitudes to the body differ from, and are comparable to, those held today.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • different critical approaches to the text.
  • the historical contexts for discourses about the body in the seventeenth century.
  • critically engage with existing criticism and scholarship about the body in the Renaissance
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • articulate a critical argument about Renaissance literature and its depictions of the human body.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate appropriate research skills


The syllabus will include a range of seventeenth-century books, essays and plays about the body. It is organised around themes and genres: each week the students will be introduced to the way a particular subject (e.g. gender or physiology) is approached from a particular generic perspective (e.g. drama, poetry, treatises), moving through the module from more fundamental texts and ideas to more specific ones, and finishing, appropriately, with death. The non-fictional material will be used to ground and give context to the literary texts, but also interpreted and analysed in its own right. Specific texts for close study will be confirmed by the module convenor. The following rough guide is intended only to give a flavour of the syllabus via some major texts: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour William Harvey, On the Motion of the Heart Baldassare Castiglione, The Courtier, tr. Thomas Hoby William Shakespeare, Macbeth John Donne, Meditations (no. XVII), Death's Duel

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods: 1 Lecture and 1 Seminar per week. Individual essay feedback sessions. Learning methods: independent study, group presentations. This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Independent Study118
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Mikhail Bakhtin. Rabelais and his World. 

Wiliam Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt. Norton Shakespeare. 


Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. 


Assessment Strategy

Two essays: one short essay (1000w, worth 35%), and one longer essay (2500w, worth 65%).


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1000 words) 35%
Final essay  (2500 words) 65%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

No more than £50.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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