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Shakespeare: Themes and Presentations 1LIB409
University of Westminster
London, England

Subject Area(s) Level(s) Instruction in Credits Contact Hours Prerequisites
Literature 200 English 4 50 N/A


This class provides a detailed examination of a range of the dramatic works of William
Shakespeare and of other poetry and drama of the English Renaissance. It will consider the context of Shakespearean drama from the sixteenth century to its interpretation and
dissemination in the present day, from theatrical practice, the playhouses, acting
companies and royal patronage of the Renaissance through to twentieth-first century film
and television adaptations. It will include close study of content and language and it will
also develop a broad understanding of themes, forms and issues (political, historical,
theoretical and religious) characteristic of English culture during the Renaissance. There will also be a study visit to the Globe theatre and other relevant sites.


This class aims to:
· introduce students to the variety of styles and themes in the work of Shakespeare.
· introduce students to the broad intellectual and dramatic contexts within which
Shakespeare’s work was produced.
· locate Shakespeare’s work in relation to that of his contemporaries
· consider in detail the form and language of some Renaissance texts
· analyse Renaissance theatrical practice
· analyse the position and authority Shakespeare holds within the canon of English
Literature and to consider the means by which his work has come to occupy this central
space in English culture and literary criticism


At the end of this class students will be able to:
· demonstrate knowledge of the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries
· describe the theatrical practices of the Shakespearean stage and the cultural climate in
which it operated.
· analyse the means by which Shakespeare has historically come to occupy a position of
centrality in English Literature.
· identify key literary movements in the English Renaissance.
· analyse the literature of the period in relation to cultural, philosophical and theoretical
· analyse the generic and stylistic features of a range of prose, poetic and dramatic texts.
· utilise secondary sources in written discussion
· communicate effectively in good written English using recognised academic apparatus


Week one
Writing and Performing in Renaissance England
The playhouses, the companies, censorship and patronage
Humanism, history and religious conflict – the History plays.
Introduction to the Sonnets and textual analysis exercise (1500 words)
· reading = Shakespeare’s Henry V and Marlowe’s Edward II
· Wednesday 23rd is a double session. We meet at The Globe Theatre at 10.30am to visit
its exhibition centre and then in the afternoon, attend a performance of Macbeth at

Week two
Shakespeare’s Genres (tragedy, comedy) from Elizabethan to Jacobean periods.
Sources, Themes and Issues in Shakespearean and Renaissance drama.
Theatrical Interpretations, 1590 – the present.
· reading = Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, Shakespeare’s As
You Like It
· Performance analysis of the live production of Macbeth.
Week three
Power, race, colonization and gender, late romances and city comedy.
Shakespeare as Cultural Icon: Interpretations of Shakespeare, 1940 - the present.
· reading = Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Middleton and Dekker’s The Roaring Girl
· essay writing focus


Twelve three-hour sessions. These will be conducted as seminars, but will include a range of activities such as tutor and student presentations, supervised small group work and whole group discussion. There will also be the opportunity to develop skills in close textual analysis, and there will be supervised study visits to The Globe Theatre, and students are encouraged to independently visit a production at the Open Air Theatre (Regent’s Park) and relevant sites such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of London for background information on the English renaissance period.


The class is assessed via coursework consisting of a textual analysis exercise (1500 words)
and an essay (2000 words).
Both elements of assessment will allow students to demonstrate key skills of literacy and
effective communication.


Textual analysis (1500 words) 40%
Essay (2000 words) 60%


In the textual analysis exercise students are expected to demonstrate that they can:
· identify the passage of text under consideration
· locate the passage within the whole text
· select, comment upon and explain the most significant points in the passage
· identify particular literary and rhetorical features such as, for example, metaphor, metre or argument
· communicate in good written English
In the essay students are expected to demonstrate that they can:
· understand the question set
· select, utilise and synthesise appropriate material (including secondary sources)
· show a knowledge and critical understanding of Shakespeare’s work in the context of
the period and the work of his contemporaries
· produce a structured essay containing a clear argument that answers the set question
· communicate in good written English
· use appropriate scholarly apparatus, including referencing and bibliography


Essential Reading
There are many editions of these plays and poems available, you may use any of them.
William Shakespeare
Henry V
The Tempest
As You Like It
The Sonnets Selection to be supplied as handouts
Christopher Marlowe
Edward II
John Webster
The Duchess of Malfi
Thomas Middelton & Thomas Dekker
The Roaring Girl

Further Reading
Phillipa Berry; Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the
Unmarried Queen (London and New York: Routledge,1989)
Linda Bamber; Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in
Shakespeare, (London and New York: Routledge,1982)
J. Dollimore, J. andA. Sinfield, A., (eds.); Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994)
Jonathan Dollimore; Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of
Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, (Harvester,1989).
John Drakakis (ed.); Alternative Shakespeares, (London and New York:
Anthony Davies; Filming Shakespeare's plays: The Adaptations of Laurence
Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook and Akira Kurosawa,
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)
Richard Dutton; Mastering the Revels: The Regulation of Censorship in English
Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1991)
Boris Ford; Sixteenth-Century Britain (London:Longman, 1989)
Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn (eds.); Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c.1540-1660 (London: Reaktion Books,1990)
Andrew Gurr; Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press,1996)
----- The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press,1994)
Terence Hawkes, Alternative Shakespeares 2, (London: Routledge,1996)
Thomas Healy; New Latitudes: Theory and English Renaissance Literature
(London: Edward Arnold,1991)
Peter Holland, English Shakespeares: Shakespeare on the English Stage in the
1990's, (London and New York:Routledge,1997)
Alexander Leggatt; English Drama: Shakespeare to the Restoration, (London:
Charles Marowitz; Recycling Shakespeare, (Yale University Press,1990).
Kate McLuskie; Renaissance Dramatists, (Sussex : Harvester,1989)
David Norbrook; Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, (London:
Routledge, 1984)
Karen Newman; Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Illinois:
University of Chicago Press, 1991)
Stephen Orgel; The Illusion of Power: Political Theatre in the English
Renaissance (Yale University Press,1975)
Lawrence Stone; The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (London:
Weidenfeld & Nicolson,1979)
Gary Taylor; Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the
Restoration to the Present, (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
Leonard Tennenhouse; Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare's Spectacle,
(London: Routledge, 1986)
Stanley Wells; The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1986)

Henry V dir. Laurence Olivier
Henry V dir Kenneth Branagh
Macbeth dir Roman Polanski
Edward II dir Derek Jarman
Prospero’s Books dir Peter Greenaway
WWW References
There are thousands of Shakespeare websites, not all are reliable. Good ones are:

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