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

View the course syllabus

Availability 2019

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Professor Tom Bishop
Dr Sophie Tomlinson


May include:

William Shakespeare:  The Comedy of Errors, ed. Wells (Oxford, 1995); The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Oliver (Oxford, 2008); As You Like It, ed. Brissenden (Oxford, 2008); Measure For Measure, ed. Snyder (Oxford, 2008); The Winter’s Tale, ed. Orgel (Oxford, 2008); The Tempest, ed. Orgel (Oxford, 2008)

Thomas Middleton:  A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, ed. Brissenden (New Mermaids, 2007)

Thomas Dekker and Middleton: The Roaring Girl, ed. Cook (New Mermaids, 2008)

It is not essential that you acquire these specific 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.  

Since you will be allowed to take play texts into the exam you should be careful that any marginal notes you make are minimal and cannot be construed as an essay draft, or are erasable.

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 and exam


ENGLISH 310: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II in English or Drama 



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