ENG-30083 - Violence and death in Shakespeare's theatre
Coordinator: Becky Yearling Room: CBB2.061 Tel: +44 1782 7 34282
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 6
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office: 01782 733147

Programme/Approved Electives for 2022/23


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2022/23

The early modern period was saturated in violence. It was enshrined in the legal system: spectators flocked to see beheadings, hangings, and other forms of public execution and physical mutilation by the state. It was treated as entertainment: bears, dogs and cockerels were forced to fight each other to the death for the pleasure of paying customers. For men, it was often seen as a way of asserting masculinity: going to war, or besting others in single combat, was a way of proving their worth. This module will explore the many ways in which violence manifested itself in Shakespeare's society, and the many different meanings that were attached to violent acts. We will study a range of early modern drama (three plays by Shakespeare and two by other dramatists of the time), and in the process, learn more about early modern attitudes to revenge, warfare, the violated human body, and the relationships between violence and race, gender, religion, and the law. We will think about why violence was so popular on the early modern stage, and what its appeal might have been for contemporary spectators. We will also study two modern films of Renaissance plays, and think about how the violence of the early modern period might be related to the violence of our own present-day culture.

This module is designed to give students a deeper understanding both of early modern drama and the social, political and cultural contexts that shaped it. Students will explore the complex relationships between literature and society, and consider the appeal of fictional violence both for Renaissance theatre-goers and for modern-day spectators.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

assess critically the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries: 1,2
demonstrate the ability to make use of early modern contextual material and modern criticism in their assessment of early modern drama┐s treatment of violent action: 1,2
conceive and formulate effective arguments about literary and dramatic texts: 1,2
come to a greater understanding of the relationship between literary texts and the cultures in which they are produced: 1,2

Study hours

20 hours seminars
10 hours workshops
60 hours seminar preparation
60 hours assessment preparation

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Commentary weighted 30%
Critical analysis
Students will choose a short extract (120 lines maximum) from one of the plays studied so far on the module and analyse its treatment of violent action. They may choose to explore such questions as: how do the characters within the play respond to the act of violence? How do they understand or interpret it? Is there any disagreement within the play regarding how to respond? How (if at all) is the violence in the extract related to such issues as gender or race or nationality? Is the violence like or unlike the violence that was common or familiar to spectators within Shakespeare┐s own society? How might an early modern spectator have responded to it, and why? 1000-1200 words.

2: Essay weighted 70%
2500-word essay
Students will write an essay on early modern drama and its relationship to its wider cultural contexts. They will either choose their own title or pick one from a suggested list. They will be required to show evidence of independent thinking, research into secondary materials and critics, and close reading.