MA/Diploma/Distance learning Shakespeare and Theatre

Do you want to immerse yourself in the works of Shakespeare? Are you interested in understanding how Shakespeare’s plays work in performance?

This innovative Shakespeare Institute programme allows you to study the performance history but also the way in which Shakespeare’s plays have been performed through history, up to the modern moment. It encourages a historical approach to interpretation and styles of presentation and it promotes the value of close reading as the basis for evaluating the plays on the page, stage, and screen. You will have the opportunity to look at different productions and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays in their historical, political, and cultural contexts and to think about the performance choices actors and directors make when approaching Shakespeare’s texts. You can also study how the textual history of Shakespeare’s plays influences performance today.

You can study on campus (full-time or part-time) or by distance learning (part-time only).

Dr Erin Sullivan

Dr Erin Sullivan

“The fact that it is a flexible modular programme where students have the ability to fit their study into busy schedules over the course of a couple of years, but still have a very rigorous MA at the end. Our distance learning MA is exactly the same in terms of assignments, readings, as our on-site MA so we really strive to give that same rigorous experience through the course. ”

You will study two core modules:

  • Shakespeare’s Theatre
  • Research Skills

You will also choose four optional modules (see module information below). Each module is assessed by one 4,000-word essay with the exception of: Research Skills which is assessed by 2 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. While completing all six taught modules will lead to a Diploma-level qualification, MA students will also complete a 15,000-word dissertation.

The flexible structure of this course allows study in a wide variety of ways, on a full- or part-time basis.

Modules are available to study through a variety of routes that may include:

  • Three long weekends at the Shakespeare Institute at approximately monthly intervals
  • One day a week throughout a semester at the Shakespeare Institute (ten days).
  • Distance-learning option via online study. 

Full-time study is on site in Stratford-upon-Avon and part-time students can choose to study the whole programme either on site, via online distance learning or a combination of the two. You are also encouraged to visit the theatre and cinema to benefit from the excitement of Shakespeare's plays in performance.

Visiting the Shakespeare Institute

We welcome prospective students to visit the Shakespeare Institute. Our next open afternoon is expected to take place on 4 February 2016.

Why study this course

  1. Location – studying at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham offers you an academic experience unequalled by any other university. You will study Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, within walking distance of his birthplace, school and grave, and the theatres of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).
  2. Shakespeare Institute and RSC collaboration - you will benefit from our exciting five-year collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) which will see the reinstatement of the iconic studio theatre, The Other Place. You will be able to access creative and teaching spaces at The Other Place, as well as the expertise of RSC artists and practitioners.
  3. Practical elements on the programme – a real focus throughout the MA is not just about reading Shakespeare’s plays but also getting up on your feet and exploring Shakespeare plays by doing them.
  4. Flexibility – you will have the opportunity to fit your studies into your schedule – opportunity to study both full-time/part-time or even by distance learning.
  5. Become part of a vibrant and active community – as a dedicated graduate school the Shakespeare Institute provides an intense learning experience in the study of Shakespeare from a range of rich perspectives. From productions, play-reading, choirs to weekly seminars there is never a dull moment at the Shakespeare Institute. And for our distance learning route, students will also very quickly find themselves part of this exciting community with significant email contact from academic staff.


You will study two core modules:

Shakespeare's Theatre (on-site and distance learning)

There are three components of this module. The first is a close reading of text that will lead to a consideration of the theatrical function and distinctive qualities of Shakespeare's language. The second is a study of Elizabethan and early Jacobean stages and performance; and the third is an extension of the historical perspective, including Shakespeare's medieval inheritance, that will inform inquiry into the contemporary and continuing theatrical life. Plays studied include some or all of Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard II, Titus Andronicus, Henry V, Cymbeline and The Tempest

Research Skills (on-site and distance learning)

This module provides you with essential research skills training applicable in the fields of Shakespeare studies, with a particular emphasis on performance studies. You will actively assess the different kinds of evidence and methods used in these fields and critically evaluate the epistemological assumptions that underline them. 

You will then choose four optional modules from a range of Shakespeare Institute modules:

Shakespeare's Craftsmanship (on-site and distance learning)

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 Legacy (on-site and distance learning)

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 Text (on-site and distance learning)

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

History of Shakespeare in Performance (on-site and distance learning)

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.

Shakespearience (distance learning only)

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, 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 character. “Shakespearience” will be about reading as process rather than product, and as such, at least potentially, experientially exciting and adventurous.

Shakespeare and Theatre Practice (on-site only)

This module will provide you with experiential knowledge that will inform the way you interrogate and interpret performance evidence in a variety of media. Through a series of practical workshops and performance assignments, you will explore 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. 

This module is assessed either by two performance assignments and a 2,000-word research paper, or by one 4,000-word research paper. (Please note: because of the nature of this module it cannot be delivered via distance learning.)

History of Shakespeare Criticism (on-site only)

The course 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. Students 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.

Plays and Poems A (on-site only)

Students are encouraged to engage with, and to see the relationship between, the plays and poems Shakespeare wrote in the sixteenth century, in which the dominant genres were comedies and histories, with tragedy an emergent presence towards the end.  The module will cover the first half of Shakespeare’s career in chronological order, from 1591 to 1600.  Learning is via student presentation and response, with a preliminary lecture on each study day.  This module can be studied as a standalone module or with Play and Poems B.

Plays and Poems B (on-site only)

Students are encouraged to engage with, and to see the relationship between, the plays and poems Shakespeare wrote in the seventeenth century, in which the dominant genres were tragedies and tragicomedies.  The module will cover the second half of Shakespeare’s career in chronological order, from 1601 – 1613.  Learning is via student presentation and response, with a preliminary lecture on each study day. (Plays and Poems A is the pre‐requisite module for Plays and Poems B.)

Early Modern Drama: Middleton and Jonson (on-site only)

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.  

Please note that availability of optional modules may vary from year to year.

- On successful completion of the six taught modules, MA students will enrol on the dissertation:

Dissertation (on-site and distance learning)

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 your 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.

Fees and funding

 We charge an annual tuition fee. MA Fees for 2015/16 are as follows: 

  • Home / EU: £6,840 full-time
  • Overseas: £14,850 full-time 

Fees for the Diploma, part-time and distance learning modes are £760 per module and £2,280 for the dissertation. 

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

Scholarships and studentships

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate Funding Database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

There are two admission routes to the programme:

  1. Those who have a 2:1 degree in an appropriate subject or the Certificate of HE in Shakespeare Studies register for the MA.
  2. Those who do not meet these formal admission requirements register initially as ‘Affiliate' students and then change status on the successful completion of the two core modules.

In addition to the usual supporting documents, all applications must be supported by a sample of written work on Shakespeare of around 2,000 words. If you do not have an existing piece of writing to submit, please take a short passage of up to 60 lines from any Shakespeare play and write an essay of around 2,000 words which discusses the performance possibilities of this extract and how it contributes to the play as a whole.

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

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.

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

The programme allows access to the unique Shakespearian resources of the Shakespeare Institute Library, the Library of the Shakespeare Centre that curates the archives of the RSC, and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Study materials for this programme are enhanced by the close ties that the Shakespeare Institute has with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the archives associated with both of these institutions.

Studying by distance learning

Many of the programme’s modules are also available via distance learning, meaning that you can study online from anywhere in the world. Distance learning modules will combine print, audio, and video teaching methods in order to give students a varied and enriching educational experience.

Although self-study is central to doing a programme by distance learning, support is always available. 

You will have a personal tutor and dissertation supervisor to guide you and answer any questions, and you have access to a wide range of online resources too. You also have the opportunity to meet other students and academic staff through online chats and discussion forums.

Read more about distance learning with the Shakespeare Institute

You will also become part of, and contribute to, the vibrant international community of the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, which offers dedicated research resources and a supportive working environment. Our team of academic and operational staff are on hand to offer support and advice to all postgraduate students within the College.

Support with academic writing

As a postgraduate student in the College of Arts and Law, you have access to the Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) which aims to help your transition from undergraduate to taught Masters level, or back into academia after time away. The service offers guidance on writing assignments and dissertations for your MA/MSc programme with individual support from an academic writing advisor via tutorials, email and the provision of online materials.

International students can access support for English Language development and skills through the Birmingham International Academy (BIA).

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.

University of the Year for employability

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.