Module Identifier EN36220  
Academic Year 2003/2004  
Co-ordinator Dr Paulina Kewes  
Semester Intended for use in future years  
Next year offered N/A  
Next semester offered N/A  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   20 Hours Seminar. (10 x 2 hr workshop/seminars)  
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 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;
discuss the texts and their various contexts coherently;
write about them in a well-structured and well-argued way.

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? In this module we shall look closely at five plays and one narrative poem, Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece. Among the themes and issues that will arise are: the status of the tragic hero or heroine (and the implications of transvestite acting); 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 (and poetic) 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.


to broaden the students' knowledge of early-modern drama, especially tragedy;
to encourage them to read early-modern plays in context and consider their political and ideological significance;
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;
to make students sensitive to strategies of evasion and allegory used by authors working in conditions of censorship and heavy government control.


The weekly two-hour classes will vary in form: there will be informal lectures, class discussions, work in groups, individual student presentations and readings of scenes from plays

1. The Question of Genre: Tragedy and History
On the basis of extracts from Aristotle's Poetics and Renaissance and modern criticism, we shall begin the discussion of tragedy as a genre which we shall continue throughout the module

2-3. Epic, Tragedy, Satire: Founding Myths and Racial Others
Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe, Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586) [Book IV of the Aeneid]

4-6. Tragic Poem, Tragic Play: Woman as (Historical) Subject and the Foundation of the Roman Republic
William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece (1594); Thomas Heywood, The Rape of Lucrece (c.1607)

7-9. Tragedy of the Individual, Tragedy of State
Civil War: William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1599); Living in a Police State: Ben Jonson, Sejanus his Fall (c. 1603); Anatomy of Tyranny: Philip Massinger, The Roman Actor (1626)

10. Conclusion: Varieties of Tragic Experience
In advance of the last seminar I shall be showing Gladiator, the most recent film about love, sex and politics in ancient Rome, and asking you to consider whether in our postmodern era the classical past can still be constructed in tragic terms.

Recommended Editions
the Marlowe-Nash Dido: The Complete Plays, ed. Mark Thornton Burnett (Everyman, 1999)
Shakespeare's Lucrece and Julius Caesar: the New Arden Shakespeare
Jonson's Sejanus: Manchester University Press
Heywood's Rape of Lucrece, Massinger's The Roman Actor, and extracts from Virgil's Aeneid will be provided in photocopy.

Select Bibliography
Rebecca W Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theatre in the English Renaissance (1990)
Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 1632-1642 (Cambridge, 1984)
Lawrence Danson, Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres (Oxford, 2000)
Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy (1984)
G.K. Hunter, English Drama, 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare (Oxford, 1997)
Coppelia Kahn, Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women (1997)
J. W. Lever, The Tragedy of State (1971, reprinted 1987)
Donald R Kelley and David Harris Sacks (ed), The Historical Imagination in Early Modern Britain: History, Rhetoric, and Fiction 1500-1800 (Cambridge, 1997)
Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theatre in the English Renaissance (1975)
J.G.A. Pocock, 'The Sense of History in Renaissance England', in William Shakespeare: His World, His Work, His Influence, ed John F Andrews, 3 vols (New York, 1985), I: 143-157.
Clifford Ronan, 'Antike Roman': Power Symbology and the Roman Play in Early Modern England, 1585-1635 (Athens, Ga., 1995)
Albert H Tricomi, Anti-Court Drama in England, 1603-1642 (1989)
R.D. Woolf, The Idea of History in Early Stuart England (Toronto, 1990)
R.D. Woolf, 'The Shapes of History', in David Scott Kastan (ed) A Companion to Shakespeare (Oxford, 1999)


This module is at CQFW Level 6