Module Identifier EN31420  
Academic Year 2003/2004  
Co-ordinator Mr Michael J Smith  
Semester Intended for use in future years  
Next year offered N/A  
Next semester offered N/A  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   20 Hours 10 x 2 hrs  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Assessment Continuous Assessment: 2 essays (2,500 words each)100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. 

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module students should typically be able to:
- demonstrate some knowledge of the changing conditions of theatrical performance in the latter part of the sixteenth century

- 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

- situate the plays within the political and social contexts of late Elizabethan England

- 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 the study of pairs of linked plays, one written near the beginning of this crucial decade and a half, one near the end, in a variety of popular genres: revenge tragedy, Roman play, patriotic English history, domestic tragedy. Shakespeare figures largely in the selection, but we will also take a close look at plays by lesser-known dramatists such as Kyd and Heywood. 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

1-3 Theatres of War: Shakespeare, Henry VI Part One and Henry V

4-6 Justice Gone Wild: Thomas Kyd,. The Spanish Tragedy; Shakespeare, Hamlet

7-8 Through Roman Spectacles: Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar

9-10 Crime and Punishment: anon, Arden of Faversham; Thomas Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness

Students will need to possess a copy of Arden of Faversham (New Mermaid, ed. White); Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness (New Mermaid, ed. Scobie); Kyd, Spanish Tragedy (eg. New Mermaid, ed. Mulryne); the Shakespeare plays, either in individual editions, or in a complete works (Oxford Compact, ed. Wells & Taylor cautiously recommended).
A splendid introduction to the theatre of the 1590s is Michael Hattaway's Elizabethan Popular Theatre: Plays in Performance (RKP, 1982). The latest edition of Stanley Wells' Shakespeare: A Bibliographical Guide (Oxford 1990) is an indispensable aid to navigation through the oceans of Shakespeare criticism. 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