Faculty of Arts


Shakespeare: Comedies and Tragicomedies


Beatrice and Benedick insulting each other; Malvolio in his yellow stockings; Prospero and his wild spirits; the statue that comes to life -- these are some of the famous moments of passion and laughter that have made Shakespeare's comedies famous. How were these plays put together? What concerns do they share, and how are those concerns varied from play to play? What has made them so famous?

In this course we will read and study selected comedies and tragicomedies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Works of Shakespeare will include examples of the romantic comedies of his first decade and a half as a playwright, of the so-called "problem plays", the darker comedies of his middle years and of the tragicomedies of his final years, sometimes called "romances".

We will also read some examples of comedies NOT by Shakespeare, to provide a contrast and sharpen our sense of what is peculiar to Shakespeare. The nature of comedy and its relationship to tragedy is also explored. A theatrical emphasis in the course is intended to help students respond to the plays as works for performance as well as literary texts.

Skills fostered include critical close reading, responsiveness to poetic and theatrical power, knowledge of dramatic modes and genres and of theatre history in English. Tutorial programme at Stage Three will include development of critical reading skills and consideration of traditions of competing critical argument.

Aims and Outcomes

By the end of this course students should:

1. Have an enhanced ability to read and understand early modern English verse and prose

2. Be aware of traditions of stage performance in early modern England

3. Be able to recognise and discuss some important features and changes in English society and culture across this period

4. Have familiarity with typical features and structures of early modern comedies

5. Have an improved ability to discuss and compare literature from this period using critical and scholarly resources


Coursework and examination

Availability 2020

Summer School


Lecturer(s) Professor Tom Bishop


  • The Comedy of Errors, ed. Wells (Oxford, 1995),
  •  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. Oliver (Oxford, 2008),
  •  Much Ado About Nothing, ed. Zitner (Oxford, 1993)
  •  As You Like It, ed. Brissenden (Oxford, 2008),
  •  The Winter’s Tale, ed. Orgel (Oxford, 2008),
  •  The Tempest, ed. Orgel (Oxford, 2008).

Recommended Reading

  • Matthew Bevis, Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford)
  • Andrew McRae, Renaissance Drama (Arnold)
  • Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 4th ed. (Cambridge)
  • Sean McEvoy,Shakespeare: The Basics (Routledge)
  • Russ McDonald, ed., The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents (Bedford/St Martins)


Coursework + exam


ENGLISH 265: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage I in English or Drama, or approval of Academic Head or nominee



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