Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Elizabethan Drama: Hieronimo to Hamlet
Academic Year
Semester 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 20 Hours. 10 x 2 hour seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 2 essays (3000 words each)  Continuous Assessment:  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit or resit failed elements and/or make good any missing elements 

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module students should typically be able to:

1. demonstrate some knowledge of the changing conditions of theatrical performance in the latter part of the sixteenth century;

2. demonstrate a detailed knowledge of selected plays of the period, and an awareness of the ways in which they are shaped by and respond to these changing conditions;

3. situate the plays within the political and social contexts of late Elizabethan England;

4. explain and engage with relevant aspects of recent critical and/or theoretical debates about particular plays.

Brief description

The last years of Elizabeth I's reign, from 1588-1603, were years of rising social tension and political anxiety. They were also years of extraordinarily rapid innovation in the English theatre: so that plays written at each end of this short period seem almost to belong to different epochs. It's this 'sea-change' in the drama that the module offers you a chance to explore. It's a story that can be written in many different ways: at one extreme, as an evolution from the theatrically primitive to the theatrically sophisticated; at another, as a subjugation of unruly and dissident energy into safer and less politically threatening forms. We will interrogate these, and other narratives of the period by (1) the study of two pairs of linked (and 'canonical') plays, one written near the beginning of this crucial decade and a half, one near the end, belonging to two of the dominant genres of the period: the revenge play (The Spanish Tragedy, Hamlet) and the history play (Henry VI Part 1, and Henry V); and (2) by by investigating a fascinating but lesser-known group of plays that deal with famous murder cases of the period (the anonymous plays Arden of Faversham, A Warning For Fair Women, The Yorkshire Tragedy and Robert Yarington's play Two Lamentable Tragedies). From the sadistic mayhem of late-imperial Rome to the poisoned intrigue of the Danish court, from the heroic battlefields of the Hundred Years War to the inglorious small-town rivalries of Elizabethan Kent, the plays cover a wide spectrum of place and time, and address large and urgent questions of their day (and indeed of ours) in a surprising range of ways.


Teaching will be by ten two-hour seminars. There will be substantial use of video material. Students will regularly be asked to prepare brief presentations, usually in teams of three or four.

Outline programme

1-4 Justice Gone Wild:
Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy; Shakespeare, Hamlet

5-7 Theatres of War
Shakespeare, Henry VI Part One and Henry V

8-10 Crime and Punishment
Anon., Arden of Faversham, A Warning to Fair Women, A Yorkshire Tragedy; Yarington, Two Lamentable Tragedies.

Students will need to possess a copy of 'Arden of Faversham' (New Mermaid, ed. White); Kyd, 'The Spanish Tragedy' (Revels Student Edition, ed. Bevington); the Shakespeare plays, either in individual editions, or in a complete works (Arden 'Complete Works', ed. Proudfoot, Thompson and Kastan recommended).

A splendid introduction to the theatre of the 1590s is Michael Hattaway's 'Elizabethan Popular Theatre: Plays in Performance' (RKP, 1982). 'The Blackwell Companion to Shakespeare' (ed. David Scott Kastan, 1999) and 'The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama' (ed. A.R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway, 1990), both available in paperback, are excellent collections of survey essays.

Detailed bibliographies will be distributed at the beginning of the course. I will be glad to give students further information about the course on request.


This module is at CQFW Level 6