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, including work from across his entire career, early, middle, and late. The nature of comedy and its relationship to tragedy is 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 plus exam

Availability 2022

Not taught in 2022




William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors  

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare, As You Like It

William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

William Shakespeare, The Tempest 

It is not essential that you acquire any specific editions (though I recommend either the Oxford World’s Classics or the Pelican editions) but you must bring a printed copy of each play to tutorials.  Make sure that your edition offers a good set of annotations and an introduction.  

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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