Crime and Literature, 1600-1750

Module code: EN3142

Module co-ordinator: Dr Kate Loveman

  • Why were authors in this period repeatedly drawn to topics such as murder, theft, and piracy?
  • What literary traditions could they draw upon in representing contemporary crime?
  • How important were social and political factors (such as urbanisation, class divisions and the status of women) in shaping imaginative literature on crime? 

Crime and criminals prompted some of the most innovative and influential literature of the early modern period. In this module you will explore the fascination that crime held for authors and readers of the 17th and early 18th century, taking examples from a range of literary forms. Through a consideration of the connections between different types of writing on crime and deviance, we will gain insights into the development of major genres such as biography and the novel.

We will consider a wide range of texts, including early 17th century plays, 18th century novels, news pamphlets, biographies and ballads. In addition to looking at how actual malefactors spurred imaginative literature, we will also read literature which was itself judged criminal by the authorities. The authors studied will include the still famous (Thomas Dekker, Daniel Defoe, John Gay) and the once infamous (Elizabeth Cellier, Thomas Dangerfield).


  • 9 two-hour seminars
  • 1 two-hour practical workshop


  • Essay, 5,000 words (100%)