PhD with integrated study in Shakespeare and Creativity

This programme, delivered by the Shakespeare Institute, combines taught modules with a full-length doctoral thesis.

With a unique focus on Shakespeare and Creativity, it allows you to combine theatrical and academic study of Shakespeare’s life and work through a series of taught modules, assessed by both written work and performance pieces, with the full research training and experience of the traditional PhD.

It makes the most of the unrivalled resources of Shakespeare’s Stratford and involves expert tuition from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the new Library of Birmingham. The programme is particularly enhanced by the Institute's new collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), offering unique and extensive opportunities to work on its premises with RSC artists.

Sara Marie Westh

Sara Marie Westh

“One of the most important things about the Shakespeare Institute is the community it fosters. Whether you see it as networking or making friends, it is the ideal springboard for anyone interested in pursuing a career in the many Shakespeare industries both in and outside academia.”

This programme brings together academic, theatrical and civic interests in Shakespeare and creativity, generating a comprehensive and forward-looking conversation about what Shakespeare is and can be in today's world.

You will produce traditional academic written work as well as creative work, all of which will explore Shakespeare’s potential in the modern world.  You will make new creative work with and at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and benefit from unique and exciting access to the RSC's studio theatre, The Other Place.

You will complete 120 credits of taught modules, including four core modules as follows:

  • Shakespearience
  • Shakespeare and Theatre Practice (formerly Shakespeare and Creative Practice)
  • The Shakespeare Ensemble
  • Shakespeare and Society

Your remaining 40 credits – equivalent to two taught modules – can be chosen from a range of Shakespeare Institute modules.

Shakespearience and optional modules are each assessed by one 4,000-word essay; Shakespeare and Theatre Practice is assessed by either two performance assignments and a 2,000-word research paper, or a 4,000-word research paper; Shakespeare Ensemble and Shakespeare and Society both combine shorter written assignments with creative work.

In addition to the 120 credits of taught modules you will then spend May to September of their first year working on a 15,000 word pilot study.  The pilot study will not bear credit as coursework, but will contribute to the thesis.  Full progression on to the PhD thesis in the second year will depend on you achieving a minimum mark of 65 in each of the taught modules and, also in the pilot study .On meeting the required level on the taught modules and pilot study, you will produce a supervised 80,000-word PhD thesis. For your thesis, you will have the chance to work intensively on an RSC project at The Other Place theatre.

The Shakespeare Institute at The Other Place

You will also benefit from our exciting five-year collaboration with the RSC which will see the reinstatement of the iconic studio theatre, The Other Place.

The collaboration will see the University become a Founding Partner of The Other Place, which closed in 2006 but will be redeveloped in Stratford-upon-Avon, home of both the RSC and the University’s Shakespeare Institute. Opening in 2016 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it will be a hub for cutting-edge research and creative practice.

Our students will be able to access creative and teaching spaces at The Other Place, as well as the expertise of RSC artists and practitioners.

At Birmingham you also have the option of studying languages, free of charge. Almost no other UK University offers you the opportunity to learn the intense graduate academic language skills which you may need to pursue your research.

Visiting the Shakespeare Institute

We welcome prospective students to visit the Shakespeare Institute. Our next open afternoons are expected to take place on 12 November 2015 and 4 February 2016.

Why study this course

  • The College of Arts and Law celebrated excellent Research Assessment Exercise 2014 results . 34% of research at the University of Birmingham for English Language and Literature was top 4* rated ‘world-leading’. A further 53% was rated 3* ‘internationally excellent’.
  • You will have the opportunity to attend weekly Thursday Seminars at the Shakespeare Institute (term-time only), which feature papers presented by a range of established visiting scholars as well as Institute and University of Birmingham staff.
  • In recent years, our postgraduates have successfully entered a variety of sectors from teaching in secondary and higher education to performing arts, publishing, museums and library and archive work. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Imperial College London; National Trust; Royal Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; The Grove Theatre; and University of Bristol.
  • The programme It makes the most of the unrivalled resources of Shakespeare’s Stratford and involves expert tuition from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the new Library of Birmingham. The programme is particularly enhanced by the Institute's new collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), offering unique and extensive opportunities to work on its premises with RSC artists.


You will study the following four core modules:


This module considers the ways in which Shakespearean language and drama bears on experience, with a view to making the experience of Shakespeare more available to contemporary Shakespeare scholarship and creative practice. It is, above all, a shared experiment in experientially alert and susceptible close reading. In a series of intensively collaborative workshops, on the special course blog and in seminars, it will dwell and linger in Shakespeare’s language and stagecraft in order to explore how its complexity produces experiential meanings, in readers, audience members and in characters. “Shakespearience” will be about reading as process rather than product, and as such, at least potentially, experientially exciting and adventurous.

Shakespeare and Theatre Practice

This module will provide you with experiential knowledge that will inform the way that you interrogate and interpret performance evidence in a variety of media. Through a series of workshops and performance assignments, you will explore three different systematic approaches to performing the language of Shakespeare: the first approach is rooted in the verse and text work of John Barton, Peter Hall, Cicely Berry and Patsy Rodenberg; the second approach explores the legacy of Stanislavski in the Shakespearean work of 20th/21st century practitioners including Katie Mitchell and Mike Alfreds; the third approach brings the devising techniques of prominent physical theatre practitioners to a creative examination of Shakespeare’s text.

The Shakespeare Ensemble

In this module you will work as part of an ensemble of creative artists – actors, directors, writers, designers – exploring and testing the theory and practice of performing Shakespeare today. You will participate in workshops with key RSC practitioners, and produce an assessed performance of a re-imagined Shakespearean text, in The Other Place theatre. The module seeks to equip students with a range of skills pertaining to creating a new piece of work - creative dramatic writing, devising as an ensemble and music in the ensemble as well as including sessions with the RSC on new writing, the ensemble, design and lighting.

Shakespeare and Society

Featuring tuition from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the new Birmingham Library (which has an important civic Shakespeare collection and premises), this module explores and tests the scope for bringing Shakespeare into the world beyond the academy and the theatre. You will undertake focused study of Shakespearean civic creativity from Garrick's 1769 Jubilee onwards before producing your own piece of civic creativity inspired by Shakespeare at the RSC.

You will also choose two optional modules from the following:

History of Shakespeare in Performance

This module will consider trends of acting and directing Shakespeare from the Restoration to the present day, and will exploit the Stratford archives to undertake studies of individual actors and directors from the eighteenth century onwards. Subjects of study might include Colley Cibber, David Garrick, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook, John Barton and Sam Mendes. There will be opportunities to analyse and interpret primary evidence and to consider the cultural context(s) of performance. Plays studied include some or all of Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Shakespeare’s Legacy

This module considers the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays, persona, and possessions from the seventeenth century to the present day. It pays special attention to how changes in theatre practice, aesthetic tastes, politics, and commercial markets have shaped the history of Shakespeare’s ‘afterlife’. Plays studied include some or all of King Lear, The Tempest, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure.

Shakespeare’s Craftsmanship

This module is intended to convey, from a variety of standpoints, a sense of how Shakespeare worked. We will explore a selection of plays from across his career in order to highlight the fluidity of his creativity in terms of such elements as language, structure, mood, adaptation of source material, and how they are made to function in innovative ways alongside the more pragmatic considerations of live performance in the early modern theatre. Alongside these historical, textual, and dramaturgical issues we will also consider how such questions of craft may influence performance practice today.

Shakespeare’s Text

The module will develop a critical awareness of the textual foundations of Shakespeare's plays. Topics covered include: the relationship between a modern edition of a play and the earliest printed texts, the nature of the printing process that first made the plays available to readers of books, the characteristics of Shakespeare's dramatic composition, the treatment of the text in the theatre (including censorship, revision and adaptation), and Shakespeare as a collaborator. Plays studied include some or all of Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Sir Thomas More, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, King Lear, Measure for Measure, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Timon of Athens.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2016/17 are as follows:

  • Home / EU: £4,610 full-time
  • Overseas: £14,180 full-time

* For UK/EU postgraduate research students the University fee level is set at Research Council rates and as such is subject to change. The final fee will be announced by Research Councils UK in spring 2016.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students.

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Entry requirements

We ask that you supply evidence of either:

  • A bachelors degree (2:1) in a relevant field


  • Relevant professional experience.  This should be demonstrated in a portfolio which catalogues and contextualises your work in a relevant field (e.g. catalogue of a recent art installation, actor’s CV, transcript giving indication of professional training, web-based archive of recent work, folio of published poems, etc)

In addition to the usual supporting documents, all applications must also be supported by:

  • Two letters of recommendation
  • A cover letter which indicates your creative potential, either proposing specific creative projects you intend to pursue on the MA or reflecting on your existing creative work.  In particular, the cover letter should address the following research questions:
    • What were/are the objectives of the piece, and why?  What obstacles did you/might you encounter?  How might these have been/be avoided?
    • To what tradition does this piece belong? To what critical conversations or bodies of practice does it contribute?  What does it contribute to them?
    • What are its implications for future work?  What does/might your work initiate in the field of Shakespeare studies more generally?

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

Please refer to our six step process on applying for PhD, MA by Research and MRes opportunities for Arts subject areas.

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Additional Guidance for applicants to the PhD Distance Learning study mode.

Making your application


When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

This programme will make use of the unrivalled resources of Shakespeare’s Stratford, involving expert tuition from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Library of Birmingham.  

It also particularly benefits from the Institute's new collaboration with the RSC, offering unique and extensive opportunities to work with the company and at The Other Place. Students will also have access to the Shakespeare Institute Library, the Library of the Shakespeare Centre that curates the archives of the RSC, and the Shakespeare Collection held at the Library of Birmingham.

Interviews with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Library of Birmingham and the Royal Shakespeare Company

Research interests of staff

Shakespeare in performance; Shakespeare in culture since 1623; Shakespeare and opera; the writings, representation and reputation of Elizabeth I; notions of authorship and nation; the representation of Shakespeare
Contact: Professor Michael Dobson
Director of The Shakespeare Institute and Professor of Shakespeare Studies
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 9508

Bibliography, editing, textual criticism, textual theory, Renaissance theatre culture and print culture, and Shakespeare’s contemporary dramatists
Contact: Professor John Jowett
Deputy Director and Professor of Shakespeare Studies
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 9507

Literature and experience, religion, philosophy, and creativity; aesthetics; Shakespeare and poetry; Shakespeare in conjunction with great art and thought from other times and places
Contact: Professor Ewan Fernie
Professor of Shakespeare Studies
Tel: + 44 (0) 121 4149506

The full corpus of dramatic works written in the British Isles, and by ‘British’ authors overseas, between the English Reformation and the English Revolution, including both commercial and literary plays, masques and entertainments, and drama in Latin, Greek, Cornish, and Welsh
Contact: Dr Martin Wiggins
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 9514

Medical and religious beliefs in early modern England, in particular their intersection. The body and metaphor, illness narratives, early modern life writings, the history of human experience. Shakespeare’s cultural legacy.
Contact: Dr Erin Sullivan
Tel: +44 (0121) 4149513

Cultural history, visual arts and material culture of early modern Britain; Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture.
Contact: Dr Tara Hamling c/o Department of Modern History
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 9510

Associated Members of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies:

Ben Jonson and his contemporaries; The relationships of Renaissance and Romantic writers; The relationships of manuscript and print; Early modern poetry and drama.
Contact: Dr Tom Lockwood c/o Department of English
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 2763

Women's writing in the 17th century; Manuscript Studies; History of Translation.
Contact: Dr Gillian Wright c/o Department of English
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5671

Shakespearean performance, Anglo-European theatrical relationships, Victorian and Edwardian theatre and the History of Film.
Contact: Professor Russell Jackson c/o Department of Drama and Theatre Arts
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5790

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

Postgraduates at the Shakespeare Institute are able to develop a broad range of creative, research and theatre skills, as well as in-depth subject knowledge.

In 2013, 99% of our postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation.

In recent years, our postgraduates have successfully entered a variety of sectors from teaching in secondary and higher education to performing arts, publishing, museums and library and archive work. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Imperial College London; National Trust; Royal Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; The Grove Theatre; and University of Bristol.

Birmingham has been transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Get involved

In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


Coming to Birmingham to study might be your first time living away from home. Our student accommodation will allow you to enjoy your new-found independence in safe, welcoming and sociable surroundings.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.