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EN9C8 Early Modern Ecologies

Spring Term 2024
Tutor: Dr Teresa Grant

This module investigates the relationship between man and the natural world in early modern England. We read scientific and theoretical writings, art, poetry, prose and drama from the period 1509-1727 to see how people thought about, and with, the natural world. We will critically analyse a variety of texts, organised into three sections -- Animal, Vegetable and Mineral -- to trace changing attitudes in which we can ascertain how earlier periods have influenced contemporary attitudes to the natural world. We will locate both the origins of vegetarianism and sustainable living, and of human exploitation of natural resources.

Outline syllabus

* indicates a text to be accessed via Early English Books OnlineLink opens in a new window

Week 1, Introduction, Themes and Theories: *Edward Topsell, Prefatory Letter to Richard Neil, Dean of WestminsterLink opens in a new window, in A History of Four-Footed Beasts (1607); John Milton, Book 4 of Paradise Lost (ed. Fowler, pp. 214-280); Ken Hiltner, 'Early Modern Ecology' in A New Companion to Renaissance Literature and Culture (ed. Hattaway, 2010: pp. 555-568); Keith Thomas, Ch. 1: 'Human Ascendancy', pp. 17-50 in Man and the Natural World (1983); Simon C. Estok, 'Doing Ecocriticism with Shakespeare: An Introduction', pp. 1-17 in Ecocriticism and Shakespeare (2011).

ANIMAL Week 2, Dogs: *Edward Topsell, 'Dogs' in A History of Four-footed Beasts (1607); Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona (c. 1594) and John Gay, 'An Elegy on a Lapdog' (1720).

Week 3, Aesop: Selected Tales and Illustrations from *William Caxton's Aesop (1484), *John Ogilby's Fables (1651) and *John Gay's Complete Fables (1727)

VEGETABLE Week 4, Pastoral: Shakespeare, As You Like It (1601) and extracts from Pastoral Poetry of the English Renaissance, ed. Sukanta Chauduri (2016)

Week 5, Trees: *Ben Jonson, 'The Forest' (1616), John Denham, 'On Cooper's Hill' (1642), Alexander Pope, Windsor Forest (1713) and extracts from *John Evelyn, Silva (1662)

Week 6, Parks and Gardens: Francis Bacon, 'Of Gardens'; Andrew Marvell, selection from Poems; Edmund Waller, 'On St James' Park' (1661) and Rochester, 'A Ramble in St James' Park' (c. 1672-3)

MINERAL Week 7, Water: John Leland, 'On the Hot Springs of Britain' (c. 1533), trans. and intro. A. W. Taylor in An Anthology of British Neo-Latin Literature (2020); Thomas Shadwell, Epsom Wells (1672); extracts from *Ellis Prat, A Short Treatise of Metal & Mineral Waters (1684); extracts from *Anthony Walker, Fax Fonte Accensa, Fire Out of Water; or An endeavour to kindle devotion from the consideration of the fountains God hath made (1684).

Week 8, Coal: *Anon., Sea-Coale, Char-Coale, and Small-Coale: A Dialogue (1643); and extracts from *John Evelyn, Fumifugium (1661) and Shadwell, Epsom Wells (1672) from last week

Week 9, Storms 1 (Weather): Shakespeare, Macbeth (1606) and Shakespeare, King Lear (1606)

Week 10, Storms 2 (Dominion and Empire): Francis Bacon, 'Of Plantation', Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611), extracts from *Ralph Bohun, A Discourse of Winds (1671) and storm paintings of the 17th Century by e.g. Rembrandt, Van de Velde the Younger

Talis Aspire Week-by-Week Reading List
Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

Demonstrate a wide and deep knowledge of primary texts written in the period 1509-1727 which engage with the natural world
Demonstrate detailed knowledge and advanced understanding of the major ecological questions of the period 1509-1727
Demonstrate advanced understanding of how the main discourses about the natural world in the period 1509-1727 relate to changing political, religious and social concerns
Demonstrate detailed knowledge and advanced understanding of ecocriticism as it relates to literature written between 1509-1727
Critique, evaluate and advance the current debates around early modern literature and the natural world
Demonstrate advanced, detailed subject knowledge informed by recent research/scholarship at the forefront of the discipline
Evaluate the uncertainty, ambiguity and limitations of knowledge in the discipline


Essay: 6000 words 100%
Students will work with the tutor to define and choose a topic and title for their essay
based on the concerns of the module and their own particular interests.

Woodcut of several different types of dogs

Ships in a stormy sea