Libertine Literature, 1660-1690

Module code: EN3172

Module co-ordinator: Professor Martin Dzelzainis

This module examines many of the most important libertine works written in the years following the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. It looks in detail at the philosophy, religious views, and sexual morality of the libertines and the way in which their values were assimilated into the poetry and drama of the period -- values that were simultaneously reactionary and subversive and which offer a provocative commentary on our own. A distinctive feature of the module is the sheer variety of genres and modes of writing with which it deals: discursive prose, translation, verse epistle, satire, burlesque, farce, comedy, and tragedy. Themes and topics to be examined include religion, scepticism, nature, appetite, obscenity, 'pornopolitics', the figure of the rake, whores and courtesans, male and female sexuality, money, interest, honour, masquerade, social spaces, and city versus country.

Special attention is given to:

  • The poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
  • The Rochesterian Farce of Sodom
  • Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines
  • Selected plays by John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell, Aphra Behn, Thomas Otway, and Thomas Southerne 

We begin, however, with two key chapters on the passions and liberty from Thomas Hobbes's heterodox and corrosive work of political philosophy, Leviathan (1651), which largely underpinned the thinking of the libertines. You are advised that the course requires you to engage with some sexually explicit material.


The module will be taught in weekly seminars. Discussion will focus on a selection of primary texts (which students will be expected to prepare beforehand), supported by secondary reading and appropriate visual materials. Each student will give a ten-minute oral presentation on a primary text as the basis for group discussion.

By the end of the module you will have...

  • Engaged with a variety of Restoration genres and developed an awareness of the critical issues associated with each of them
  • Developed an understanding of how philosophical materials were exploited for literary purposes
  • Acquired a critical perspective on the deployment of sexually explicit material in literature
  • Become broadly familiar with the historical and political contours of the Restoration period
  • Formulated an independent set of arguments in relation to a particular aspect of the course both in oral presentations and written work


  • One 5,000-word essay