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The University of Southampton

ENGL2108 The Early Modern 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 early modern period. 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 illness, sex, identity 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, 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 early modern 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 and eighteenth centuries.
  • critically engage with existing criticism and scholarship about the body in the early modern period.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • articulate a critical argument about early modern 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- and eighteenth-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). 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. Texts may include the following: Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour (1598) William Shakespeare, Macbeth (1606) Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) John Donne, Meditations (no. XVII), ‘Death's Duel’ (1624) William Harvey, On the Motion of the Heart (1628) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ‘The Imperfect Enjoyment’ (1680) Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688) Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1725) George Cheyne, The English Malady (1731)

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



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1000 words) 30%
Final essay  (2000 words) 70%


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 £20 (you will have access to all key texts online, with free access).

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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