Imagining London: The City in Early Modern Literature

Module code: EN3164

Module co-ordinator: Dr Mary Ann Lund

In this module you will examine the central place that London held in the literary imagination from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Through readings of a wide range of texts and genres, we will consider how writers depicted the rapidly expanding metropolis and identified a defining set of characteristics for it, including noise and crowds, crime and jurisdiction, sex and prostitution, epidemic disease, the suburbs, religious and political debate, and finance and trade.

Topics covered

We will take a broadly chronological approach to the changing views of London in literature, while identifying important ongoing and developing themes. We will start in the mid-16th century with William Baldwin's bizarre and brilliant Protestant fiction Beware the Cat, in which the narrator uses magical means to eavesdrop on the conversation of cats on the rooftops of London.

The harassed scholar of John Donne's Satire I will be our second literary tour guide to the early modern urban experience, as he leaves his study to walk the streets and pretends (at least) to be horrified by the frivolous and amoral characters who populate it. Other Elizabethan and early Jacobean writing will include the emerging genre of city comedy, which seeks to display both the chaotic vibrancy and the dangers of urban life.

We will pay close attention to important public spaces such as the public playhouses and the city pulpits, investigating the city's topography and its key sites of controversy and debate. In studying literature in civil war London, we will examine the role of pamphlet publication in shaping the city's changing political and social identity.

We will move on to consider the depiction and mapping of the new city after the Great Fire of 1666, looking at Restoration poetry (including the Earl of Rochester's infamous 'Ramble in St James's Park') and periodical literature. We will finish at the River Thames with Alexander Pope's satire on London hack writers, The Dunciad.




  • Essay, 5,000 words (100%)