Module Identifier EN33020  
Academic Year 2003/2004  
Co-ordinator Mr Michael J Smith  
Semester Available semesters 1 and 2  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   20 Hours Seminar. (10 x 2 hr seminar/workshops)  
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:
- outline some of the ways in which critics have sought to define the contrasting characteristics of the dramatic works of Shakespeare and Jonson, and assess the validity of such distinctions in critical practice;

- demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the set texts, and an informed awareness of their relationship to the generic traditions of comedy;

- articulate this knowledge and awareness in the form of a reasoned critical analysis of particular texts;

- relate the texts studied to early modern ideas about theatre and society, and to the conditions of theatrical performance, and show how an understanding of these ideas and conditions can inform critical interpretation;

- explain and engage with relevant aspects of recent critical and/or theoretical debates about the texts studied.

Brief description

An approach to the two most influential writers of the English theatre, aiming at an understanding of their distinctive methods and achievements. The focus will be on comedy, and on the surprising variousness with which the two playwrights interpret the genre, and the resourcefulness with which they extend its boundaries. We will explore the ways in which comedy alters as it is shaped by and responds to social pressures; in particular, how it meets the challenge of representing contemporary urban experience. And throughout we will be able to catch glimpses of a fascinating creative rivalry, as the two great dramatists appropriate and grapple with each other's initiatives and innovations. Both writers can be seen responding to the theoretical debates then current about the nature and purpose of drama, taking very different views of the moral and political responsibilities of authorship and of the relationship between aesthetic standards derived from classical drama and native dramatic traditions and theatre practices.

The module begins by setting Shakespeare's festive comedy of courtship and marriage, A Midsummer Night's Dream, alongside Jonson's formally innovative 'humours' comedy, Every Man In His Humour: the one set in a semi-mythical Athenian court (and wood) and dealing in love and magic, the other in a vividly realised early seventeenth-century London, populated by an eccentric assortment of fantasists and misfits, and concerned with the satiric exposure of social pretensions.   In succeeding weeks we will look at the impact of humours comedy on Shakespearean romance (Twelfth Night), and compare and contrast the darkening cityscapes of Volpone, Jonson's Venetian fable of consumption, and Timon of Athens, Shakespeare's savage satire on material excess. Study of Jonson's gender-bending Epicoene and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure will enable us to explore issues of sexuality and identity, as they are shaped by the experience of the early modern city. Finally, a detailed investigation of Jonson's great and self-reflexive carnivalesque comedy, Bartholomew Fair, will prompt us to a retrospective overview of themes and trends within the plays discussed.


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

1. Introduction to Jonson and Shakespeare (with reference to their writing about the theatre)
2-4. Comedy, Festivity and Humours: Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream; Jonson Every Man in his Humour; Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
5-6. Fantasies of Consumption: Jonson, Volpone; Shakespeare, Timon of Athens
7-8. Sex and the City: Jonson, Epicoene; Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
9-10. The Limits of Carnival: Jonson, Bartholomew Fair

A collected edition of Shakespeare would suffice, but individual copies of the New Cambridge, Oxford or New Arden editions would be much better. For Jonson, you will need a copy of Jonson, Five Plays, ed, G A Wilkes (World's Classics). This contains Every Man in his Humour, Volpone and Bartholomew Fair. You will also ened to acquire an edition of Jonson's Epicoene (New Mermaid, ed. R V Holdsworth recommended). Detailed bibliographies of secondary reading will be distributed at the beginning of the module. If you would like to do some secondary reading in advance, the following are strongly recommended (indeed you should think seriously about acquiring one or both):

Blackwell Companion to Shakespeare, ed David Scott Kastan (1999)
Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson, ed Richard Harp and Stanley Stewart (2000)


This module is at CQFW Level 6