Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

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


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 essay (2,500 words) plus oral presentation  Continuous Assessment:  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected. 

Learning Outcomes

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

1. demonstrate that they have acquired a knowledge and understanding of the primary texts on the module and a critical awareness of the broader issues raised by the module;

2. discuss the texts and their various contexts coherently;

3. write about them in a well-structured and well-argued way.


This module aims:

1. to broaden the students' knowledge of early-modern drama, especially tragedy;

2. to encourage them to read early-modern plays in context and consider their political and ideological significance;

3. by focussing on episodes drawn from the history of ancient Rome, to encourage students to reconstruct the way in which history was used to comment on the present;

4. to make students sensitive to strategies of evasion and allegory used by authors working in conditions of censorship and heavy government control.

Brief description

What kinds of tragedies were written in the English Renaissance? Did they focus on the individual or the state? Men or women? Were they action-packed or did they rely predominantly on verbal exchanges? How did the form evolve in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline periods?

Among the themes and issues that will arise are: the status of the tragic hero or heroine ; the language and style of tragedy; the role of dramatic dialogue and soliloquies; the function of space; tragedy in performance; the impact of tragedy on the audience.

Yet we shall not limit ourselves to discussing tragedy as a dramatic genre. In the early modern era the theatre was the most powerful cultural institution that made possible dissemination and critique of assumptions about politics, religion, and society. We shall ask how tragedy shaped those assumptions. We shall explore the political functions of tragic drama in changing historical contexts. Since all texts on this module are set in ancient Rome, we shall be able to trace how Renaissance writers confronted pressing contemporary concerns about national identity and England's emergent status as a colonial power by refracting them through the classical past. We shall also examine the representation of gender, race, and class in tragedy, and consider the ideology of the tragic form.



_1. Introductory: Ideas of Tragedy, Ancient and Modern

_2. Epic, Tragedy, Satire: Founding Myths and Racial Others
Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe, Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586)

_3-5. Tragedy, Violence and Violation
William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus (1593); John Webster and Thomas Heywood, Appius and Virginia (1624)

_6-8. Tragedy, Sacrifice and the State
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1599); Ben Jonson, Sejanus his Fall (c. 1603); Philip Massinger, The Roman Actor (1626)

_9-10. The World as a Tragic Stage
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (1607)


This module is at CQFW Level 6