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Study information

Rethinking Shakespeare

Module titleRethinking Shakespeare
Module codeEAS1041
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Harry McCarthy ()

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module explores Shakespeare’s King Lear, As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew from a wide range of perspectives. You will examine the contexts of the plays’ production and reception; the plays' print history; early modern performance practices, and how other writers and film directors have adapted Shakespeare’s plays. Through engaging with the sources and precursors to Shakespeare’s plays, the intricacies of textual production and editorial history, as well as how these plays have been reimagined by other writers, you will be asked to rethink notions of textual stability in relation to the ‘Shakespearean text’ and encounter the nuances and richness available within Shakespeare Scholarship. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to explore the processes by which Shakespeare’s plays came into existence, how they achieved their unique status in English literature and culture, and how Shakespeare's dominance has been and continues to be challenged. The module illuminates the role (and texts) of other writers involved in the legacy of Shakespeare’s plays and encourages you to examine these often neglected influences within modern understandings of Shakespeare. For example, you will read Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew alongside John Fletcher’s response: The Tamer Tamed and Nahum Tate’s King Lear will be read in its Restoration context and as a crucial part of the play’s stage history (for 150 years, this was the Lear on stage). Throughout, the module pays close attention to the particular possibilities of theatre as a mode of cultural production.

By asking you to edit a short passage from King Lear as a formative assignment (for which you will participate in an editing workshop and then produce a piece of written work recording your approach), the module offers an invaluable opportunity to understand the role of the modern editor and encounter the important issue of textual variants in Shakespeare Studies. Students will also have the opportunity to work with colleagues from Digital Humanities who will provide an introduction to the ways in which TEI XML mark is used to produce digital editions of texts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a critical appreciation of some of the dominant concepts, methods and debates informing the study of Shakespearean drama
  • 2. Demonstrate an ability to analyse the form and content of particular plays
  • 3. Demonstrate an awareness of how responses to Shakespeare's work have developed over time
  • 4. Demonstrate a grasp of the interpretative choices involved in editing, performing, adapting Shakespearean texts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate a basic ability to analyse the literature of an earlier era and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context
  • 6. Demonstrate a basic ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 7. Demonstrate a basic ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts
  • 8. Demonstrate a basic ability to analyze contemporary debates in light of the history of their discipline

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Through seminar work, demonstrate basic communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 10. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a basic capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 11. Through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate basic proficiency in information retrieval and analysis

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

You will be introduced to key areas within Shakespeare studies that have involved aspects of ‘rethinking’ within our approaches to Shakespeare’s plays. The course is structured around three topics: Texts, Contexts and Aftertexts.

Within the ‘Texts’ section of the course, you will examine issues that include: the processes of textual production for early modern versions of Shakespeare’s plays; the textual variants of King Lear; the role of the modern editor; the analysis of As You Like It and Taming of the Shrew, and an introduction to the role of digital texts in Shakespeare studies.

The ‘Contexts’ section of the course places Shakespeare’s works within creative, performative and historical contexts that develop the analysis of meaning within Shakespeare’s plays. By considering the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and their sources, for example, you will consider more than simply where Shakespeare’s ideas came from, but also why and how other writers were engaging with concerns similar to those at work in Shakespeare.

In situating Shakespeare’s plays within early modern theatrical culture, you will examine plays as performances shaped by theatrical practices such as the use of cue-scripts and crossdressing.

The ‘Aftertexts’ section of the course examines selected afterlives for Shakespeare’s works, including Nahum Tate’s Restoration adaptation of King Lear. You will consider how processes of adaptation have played a part in the legacy of Shakespeare works. By placing ‘aftertexts,’ including film adaptations in their own cultural and historical contexts, you will gain understanding of the role that present-day performance plays in the continued creation of meaning within Shakespeare plays.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching15Seminars
Guided independent study22Study group meetings and individual study and preparation
Guided independent study48Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study54Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Editing Shakespeare exercise30 lines edited text and 800 word commentary1-2, 4, 7-8, 10Cohort feedback with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Module participation10Continuous throughout module9Oral feedback from tutor and opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay901500 words1-8, 10-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Module participationRepeat study / mitigation9Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-8, 10-11Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading:

  • William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew (Norton Critical Editions), ed. Dympna Callaghan, Norton, 2009.
  • William Shakespeare. King Lear (Norton Critical Editions), ed. Grace Ioppolo, Norton, 2008.
  • William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Norton Critical Editions), ed. Leah Marcus, Norton, 2011.

*Norton Critical Editions include Source texts for each play; these will be used in week 5 of the module.

  • Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier (eds), Adaptations of Shakespeare: A Critical Anthology (2000).

(which includes: John Fletcher, The Tamer Tamed; Nahum Tate, King Lear; WTG and Elaine Feinstein, Lear’s Daughters)

*You should buy copies of the three Shakespeare plays and Adaptations of Shakespeare.

Core Film Texts: Students will receive instruction from the convenor about accessing films for the course

Secondary Reading:

  • Laurie Maguire (ed.), How to Do Things With Shakespeare (2007)
  • M. J. Kidnie, Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation (2009)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

English, literature, Shakespeare.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date