Faculty of Arts


Age of Shakespeare: Tragedy


Hamlet with the skull; Cleopatra with the asp; King Lear with his Fool; Doctor Faustus with the Devil. These are some of the most famous and enduring dramatic images in the repertory of world drama, at the heart of plays that have fascinated, compelled and terrified audiences for centuries.

In this course we will read a selection of the most exciting of these plays written between 1590 and 1625, both by Shakespeare and by some of his contemporaries, in a period where tragedy was a powerful and intensely-watched form of drama (we will want to ask why this was). The course will consider both how these plays are complex pieces of writing and also how their theatricality is managed as experience on the stage.

Of particular interest will be the relations among different kinds of tragedy we can trace between plays and playwrights, including revenge tragedy, religious tragedy, domestic tragedy and political tragedies. Black comedy, camp and other ironic and satiric aspects of tragedy will also be examined, and parallels drawn with modern theatrical and film culture.

By the end of this course students should:

  • Have an enhanced ability to read and understand early modern English verse and prose
  • Be aware of traditions of stage performance in early modern England
  • Be able to recognise and discuss some important features and changes in English society and culture across this period
  • Have familiarity with typical features and structures of early modern tragedies
  • Have an advanced ability to discuss and compare literature from this period using critical and scholarly resources, including electronic databases and research tools
  • Understand the principles of scholarly citation

Stage Three students will also give consideration to some of the way literary critical discussion has addressed these plays and the issues they raise.


Coursework only

Availability 2021

Not offered in 2021; planned for 2022


Lecturer(s) Professor Tom Bishop
Dr Sophie Tomlinson


Christopher Marlowe:

Doctor Faustus, ed. Roma Gill rev. Ros King (New Mermaids, 2009)

William Shakespeare: 

            Hamlet, ed. G.R. Hibbard (Oxford)  

            Othello, ed. Michael Neill (Oxford)

            King Lear, ed. R.A. Foakes (Arden)

            Anthony and Cleopatra, ed. Michael Neill (Oxford)

Thomas Middleton:

            The Revenger’s Tragedy, ed. Brian Gibbons (New Mermaids)

Middleton & Rowley:

            The Changeling, ed. Michael Neill (New Mermaids)

John Webster:

            The Duchess of Malfi, ed. Brian Gibbons (New Mermaids)

Recommended Reading

Andrew McRae, Renaissance Drama (Arnold)

Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 4th ed. (Cambridge)

Russ McDonald, ed., The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction With Documents (Bedford/St Martins)

Adrian Poole, Tragedy: A very short Introduction (Oxford)

Peter Holbrook, English Renaissance Tragedy: Ideas of Freedon (Bloomsbury)


Coursework + exam


ENGLISH 353: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II in English or Drama



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