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Elizabethan and Seventeenth Century Drama


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenors: Professor Sue Wiseman, Gillian Woods
  • Assessment: 1000-1500-word coursework (10%), a 2000-word essay (40%) and a 2500-3000-word essay (50%)

Module description

What happened in London in the 1570s that resulted in the extraordinary flowering of theatre? This module investigates the explosion of dramatic activity between the opening of the first permanent purpose-built theatre in London (the Red Lion, Whitechapel, 1569) and the closure of the city’s playhouses by civil war (1642). How far were the conflicting energies that burst onto the capital’s stages coterminous with the wider material and ideological struggles that would in time generate that civil war?

Focusing on some of the plays produced in England between the 1570s and the 1630s, the module considers the social tensions they variously articulate, as well as their relationship to the rapidly growing city of London. At the same time, the module will examine the circumstances of the theatre through key topics: authors (what did it mean to write for the stage?); the repertory and the companies (boys' companies, the relationships between players, plays and places); spaces (outdoor theatre, indoor theatre, court, touring); and genre (how comedy and tragedy represent important moments in the lives of early modern people, including apprenticeship, courtship, marriage, death and dispossession).

Plays studied may include works such as Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, Jonson’s Volpone and the anonymous Arden of Feversham. We will draw on the excellent opportunities of London itself (considering the Globe and the Rose theatres) as well as the fantastic resources in the scholarly field such as the interactive map of early modern London.

Studying a defined corpus closely will give you an opportunity to develop your own ideas and research and this is reflected in the assessment.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • engaged in depth with key texts in Elizabethan and seventeenth-century English drama
  • gained a greater understanding of the material contexts in which these plays were performed
  • engaged in a series of key debates and issues around genre, text and performance from the period and examined how these plays responded to such debates and helped shape them.