Module Identifier EN36220  
Academic Year 2006/2007  
Co-ordinator Mr Michael J Smith  
Semester Semester 1  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   20 Hours. 10 x 2 hour workshop/seminars  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Assessment Continuous Assessment: 1 essay (2,500 words) plus oral presentation100%
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)

Reading Lists

** Should Be Purchased
Ben Jonson (ed. Philip Ayres) (1999) Sejanus His Fall (Revels Plays edition) Manchester University Press 0719057027
Christopher Marlowe (ed. Mark Thornton Burnett) (1999) The Complete Plays Everyman 0460879871
William Shakespeare (ed. Ann Thompson et al.) (2001) The Complete Works The Arden Shakespeare 1903436613
** Recommended Consultation
Albert H Tricomi (1989) Anti-Court Drama in England, 1603-1642 University Press of Virginia
Clifford Ronan (1995) ''Antike Roman'': Power Symbology and the Roman Play in Early Modern England, 1585-1635 University of Georgia Press
Coppelia Kahn (1997) Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women Routledge
D. R. Woolf (1990) The Idea of History in Early Stuart England University of Toronto Press
D. R. Woolf, ''The Shapes of History'', in David Scott Kastan (ed.) (1999) A Companion to Shakespeare Oxford University Press
Donald R Kelley and David Harris Sacks (eds.) (1997) The Historical Imagination in Early Modern Britain: History, Rhetoric, and Fiction 1500-1800 Cambridge University Press
G.K. Hunter (1997) English Drama, 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare Oxford University Press
J.G.A. Pocock, ''The Sense of History in Renaissance England'', in John F. Andrews (ed.) (1985) William Shakespeare: His World, His Work, His Influence Charles Scribner's Sons, 3 vols.: v.1, pp.143-157.
Jonathan Dollimore (1983) Radical Tragedy Harvester Press
Julius Walter Lever (1971) The Tragedy of State Methuen
Lawrence Danson (2000) Shakespeare's Dramatic Genres Oxford University Press
Martin Butler (1984) Theatre and Crisis, 1632-1642 Cambridge University Press
Rebecca W Bushnell (1990) Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theatre in the English Renaissance Cornell University Press
Stephen Orgel (1975) The Illusion of Power: Political Theatre in the English Renaissance University of California Press


This module is at CQFW Level 6