The dynamism of Shakespeare studies owes much to the sheer diversity of critical, theatrical, and historical approaches. It offers sustained study in a variety of fields, drawing on the special interests of a dedicated team of Shakespeare scholars.
You will study five core modules (full descriptions below):
Plays and Poems of Shakespeare A
Plays and Poems of Shakespeare B
Textual Studies in Shakespeare
Research Skills in Shakespeare
History of Shakespeare in Performance OR Shakespeare’s Legacy
You will also choose one optional module from a range of Shakespeare Institute modules.
Each module is assessed by one 4,000-word essay with the exception of: Research Skills which is assessed by 2–3 shorter assignments; and Shakespeare and Theatre Practice which is assessed by either two performance assignments and a 2,000-word research paper, or by one 4,000-word research paper. You will also submit a 15,000-word dissertation at the end of the programme. The dissertation will focus on a relevant topic of your choice, agreed with your supervisor earlier in the year.
You will also attend Thursday Seminars held once a week during term-time at the Shakespeare Institute which feature papers presented by a range of established visiting scholars as well as Institute and University of Birmingham staff.
Visiting the Shakespeare Institute
We welcome prospective students to visit the Shakespeare Institute. We usually arrange open afternoons to coincide with two of our weekly Thursday seminar series a term which gives you a good opportunity to experience the Shakespeare Institute and to meet our staff and students. If you would like to visit us at another time, please contact us.
You will study the following four core modules:
Plays and Poems A
This module encourages you to engage with most of Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Poems. Each class will cover a topic relating to one or more texts, using individual student input, and group discussion and analysis.
Plays and Poems B
This module encourages you to engage with most of Shakespeare's Problem Plays, Tragedies and Late Plays. Each class will cover a topic relating to one or more texts, using individual student input, and group discussion and analysis.
Textual Studies in Shakespeare
What do we mean when we refer to ‘the text of Shakespeare’? This module investigates the production of the text in the theatre and in print, explores controversies surrounding the interpretation of this material, and introduces students to the techniques of editing. Topics 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 usually include: 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.
Research Skills in Shakespeare
Classes introduce the research techniques applicable in the fields associated with Shakespeare studies, and explore the rich resources available through the University and in Stratford-upon-Avon. This knowledge is applied in a Bibliographical Essay, which provides preparation for the dissertation. These modules will provide a thorough grounding in the study of Shakespeare's works.
- Your fifth core module, in performance studies, offers a choice between:
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 will include Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
This module considers the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays, persona, and possessions from 1660 to the present day, paying particular attention to how changes and developments in theatre practice, aesthetic tastes, social concerns, political events, the heritage industry, and commercial markets have shaped the history of Shakespeare’s ‘afterlife’. The module looks at trends broadly chronologically, focusing on particular examples as it traces how the plays (and other Shakespeariana) were received and reinterpreted in light of different artistic, intellectual, and commercial movements from the late seventeenth to early twenty‐first centuries. The distinction between ‘adaptations’, ‘appropriations’, ‘translations’, and ‘versions’ will be questioned, and students will be invited to consider the extent to which the different adaptations they read or see rely upon the original Shakespearian text for context and meaning.
- You will also study one optional module – either a second performance studies module (above) or another Shakespeare Institute module:
History of Shakespeare Criticism
This module will combine a historical overview of the main developments in Shakespeare criticism from the 1590s to the present with detailed investigation of key texts, covering: the canonisation of Shakespeare; character criticism; biographical criticism; imagery and symbolist criticism; critical study of the plays as created artifacts; the relationship between criticism and performance; historicist criticism; and new critical approaches. You will read weekly set texts for discussion in seminar, and a weekly lecture will place these texts in their historical context. You will be expected to undertake independent reading around the topics after the seminar discussion, guided by topic-specific reading lists which are circulated each week.
Social and Cultural History of Renaissance England A and B
These two modules will provide a broad introduction to the social and cultural history of the period, but also focus more specifically on issues relevant to Shakespeare's life and drama and the two local societies of which he had experience, Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Among the principal topics will be social mobility and crises in social relations; social disorder and agrarian discontent; changing notions of honour; the impact of the Reformation and the nature of Catholicism and Puritanism; and rebellion, authority and the royal court. Please note these modules are taught in the History Department at the University of Birmingham main campus in Edgbaston. The modules can be studied individually or together.
Early Modern Drama: Middleton and Jonson
This module will introduce and contextualise two of the most significant dramatists working in the same period as Shakespeare. Each week you will focus on a pair of plays, usually one by Jonson and one by Middleton. Seminars will focus on student presentations, usually two in each class, each of which will place one of the plays in a broader dramatic and/or cultural context, and/or engage in close analysis of key passages. Special classes will identify the plays as intersections between dramatists and theatre companies, engage with issues relating to dramatic language and technique, and explore issues of textual circulation and canon formation.
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 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, students 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, and Giles Block; the second approach explores the legacy of Stanislavski in the Shakespearean work of 20th/21st century practitioners in Europe and the United States; the third approach brings the devising techniques of prominent physical theatre practitioners to a creative examination of Shakespeare’s text.
Shakespeare, the Playwright and his Drama A and B
Shakespeare's life and career are examined as a case study in the position of professional playwrights in early modern England. You will examine the way the theatre for which Shakespeare was writing worked - how plays were written, how play texts were circulated and the impact censorship had upon them. You will then be able to consider the relationship between Shakespeare's plays and the issues affecting his society, and to analyse the intervention the plays made in important social debates. These two modules can be studied individually.
Please note that availability of optional modules may vary from year to year.
- On successful completion of the six taught modules, you will enrol on the dissertation:
In this module you will undertake a substantial piece of independent research. This may be based on - but will extend - work undertaken for previous modules in the programme. There should be some element of originality in the research and the research may make a contribution to the field of study. You will report the research in a dissertation of 15,000 words (in appropriate academic English). In designing, carrying out and writing up the study, you will be supported by a supervisor.