English and drama

Spectacular Imaginings: Renaissance Drama and the Stage 1580-1640

Module code: Q3202
Level 6
30 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Lecture, Seminar
Assessment modes: Dissertation

This module explores English Renaissance drama and its staging between the advent of the commercial theatres in London (circa 1580) and their closure during the early 1640s as a consequence of the English Civil War. This new module has been developed with, and will be co-taught by, scholars and theatre practitioners at Shakespeare's Globe, London. The Globe's programme at both its new indoor Jacobean theatre (the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse) as well as its main outdoor theatre will form an important part of this module with you attending performances at both venues.

The module will focus on a selection of plays from this period exploring them in their original social, cultural and aesthetic contexts. It will also reflect upon why plays from this era are so frequently and successfully re-produced for the modern stage and screen. What roles did theatre play in London during the Renaissance and why was England virtually unique in Europe (Spain is the only counterpart) in creating a large-scale commercial theatre that generated a vast corpus of new plays? The module examines many of the most significant themes with which this theatre engages, among them unruly sexualities (incest, adultery and rape); violence and eloquence; London and city commerce; domestic tragedy; marriage and divorce; the place of the court; the foreign and the exotic; and the supernatural. It considers the roles of genre, acting styles, theatre companies, star actors, boy players, audiences and the varying physical spaces of the theatres in mediating these themes.

You will have access to the unique Globe archives when researching your dissertation project. Four of the plays will be determined by the Globe's season (including at least one by Shakespeare). The tragedies, comedies, histories and tragi-comedies studied will include works by Marlowe, Webster, Ford, Middleton, Dekker, Beaumont and Fletcher, Cary, Marston and Shakespeare.

Module learning outcomes

  • Ability to research widely and acquire expertise in an area of particular interest.
  • An accurate understanding of the interplay of drama and performance with the politico-social contexts of early modern England.
  • An ability to analyse the ways in which the drama responded to commercial demands and shifts in aesthetic 'taste'.
  • The skills requisite to organising complex material into an extended piece of written work.