The University of Southampton

ENGL3090 Swashbucklers, Cut-throats, Revolutionaries: Five Hundred years of Pirates in English Literature

Module Overview

Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Captain Jack Sparrow: there is little doubt that you have met these pirates somewhere, at some time in your life. They have all sailed outside their original contexts and into the global popular imagination. This module will give you the opportunity to explore behind and beyond these pop hero-villains. Through this voyage across five hundred years of English literature, you will discover that pirates have long been figures of critical importance to the aesthetic and political shape of texts and epochs.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to a range of writings about pirates, • equip you with a critical vocabulary to interpret literary texts featuring pirates, • provide you with historical and cultural contexts for reading texts about pirates.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the dramatic and lyrical, political and ethical significance of the figure of the pirate within literatures in English,
  • the literary pirate as a conduit to a wider understanding of complex terms of modernity, including ‘exploration’, ‘state’, ‘race’, ‘empire’, ‘colonialism’, and ‘post-colonialism’,
  • the significance of oceanic, ship-board and coastal geographies to an understanding of the history of literature in English.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • pursue sophisticated comparisons of works of literature across genres and periods of history,
  • analyse the geographical, economic, and political valences of texts,
  • interrogate the usefulness and limits of broad historical and theoretical terms.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • conduct independent research using tools and resources available via libraries and the internet,
  • critically evaluate arguments and weigh evidence presented in a range of mediums,
  • discuss and write with complex sensitivity about cultural and social experiences which may be different to your own,
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • research the formal, aesthetic, historical, and political parameters of a text,
  • bring together different genres of writing, and discuss them in depth,
  • present both written and oral arguments about literary texts that place them in a broader historical, cultural, geographical, and theoretical context.


The pirate is a remarkably popular, resilient and powerful figure within the past five hundred years of writing in English. Pursuing this figure over time and oceans, this module will give you the opportunity to focus on the continuities and discontinuities between literatures across centuries, from the early modern period to now. We begin in the sixteenth century with an exploration of the ways in which the pirate was initially significant within discourses of sex, death, religion, gender, race, and exploration. As your engagement with pirates and piracy becomes more complex and historically astute, we will move towards an interrogation of the ways in which literary pirates moved to enact and challenge core terms of ‘modernity’ itself. This will entail a strong engagement with the dynamics of state-making, war, revolution, imperialism,, colonialism and post-colonialism.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• lectures • seminar discussions • in-class writing exercises. These Writing exercises will be focused not just on producing a decent essay, but on how to write in a way that is both scholarly and (in line with the theme of the module) captivating!

Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Wider reading or practice12
Completion of assessment task42
Follow-up work12
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Moore, Grace (2011). Pirates and Mutineers of the Nineteenth Century. 

Jowitt, Claire ed. (2--7). Pirates? The Politics of Plunder 1550-1650. 

Thomson, Janice (1994). Mercenaries, Pirates and Sovereigns. 

Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Redicker (2002). The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. 

Rediker, Marcus (2005). Villains of All Nations. 

Rennie, Neil (2013). Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Essay  (2000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (2 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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