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EN2K5/EN3K5 Literature and Revolution, 1640-1660: Turning the World Upside Down

This module is running in 2021/2022, in Term 2.

Module Credits: 15 CATS

Module Outline

The British Civil Wars (1642-51) and their aftermath in the 1650s were periods of tumultuous ideological change. The collapse of censorship in 1642 also led to an extraordinary outburst of literary experimentation. Here, new theological and political ideas were described and contested, in many cases for the first time in British history. A utopian politics of enfranchisement or communal ownership was dramatized and maybe satirised on the stage and in poetry but also rigorously defended in pamphlets and ballads by groups like the Levellers and Diggers. Radical prophets like Anna Trapnel wrote about the imminent end of the world in a visionary prose that upended cultural and social expectations about women’s domestic roles. One of the first English settlers in America, Anne Bradstreet, wrote poetry about the international significance of the wars in Britain. With the theatres closed, the career of public drama did not end but moved from stage to page, taking on the form of the scurrilous pamphlet-play.

Central to all this, of course, was what Andrew Marvell described as the ‘climacteric’ events of January 1649 when a ruling monarch, Charles I, was tried and executed. Before turning his mind to epic poetry, John Milton was engaged to defend this act. But after it, all writers needed to find new images and tropes with which to describe entirely novel forms of political authority and to repackage, celebrate, or suppress memories of bloodshed and violence. On this module you will read some of this literature by authors from a range of ideological positions and explore how it transformed for good the way established forms of authority in Church, State, and society were imagined.

Lecture and Seminar times

To be taught through 1 X 1-hour lecture and 1 X 1-hour seminar. Times tbc.



Reading List

A Tallis Aspire reading list will be created over the summer. For now, please refer to the list of suggested further reading on the syllabus outline.



Objectives and outcomes

By the end of this module you should have:

  • knowledge and understanding of writing that emerged from the military and ideological conflicts of the 1640s and 1650s.
  • ability to analyse this writing and understand the different political and religious ideas it articulated.
  • developed an awareness of literary critical and historiographical debates on the literary cultures of the mid seventeenth century.
  • an understanding of how revolutionary change affected literary form and genre in 17th-century Britain and America.
  • developed skills in reading literature in its historical and cultural contexts.

world turned upside down


Dr John West

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