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Study information

Theatrical Cultures in Early Modern England

Module titleTheatrical Cultures in Early Modern England
Module codeEAS2036
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Pascale Aebischer (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Theatrical Cultures in Early Modern England focuses on the ‘golden age’ of English drama from the Elizabethan period through to the Civil War. Each week, you will explore a new performance environment, so that over the course of the term you will acquire a nuanced understanding of the performance culture that shaped the work of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, Carey and their fellow playwrights.

Through the prism of theatre history, the module explores how gender, sexual, national and racial identities were constructed not just through the written texts but also through stage technologies such as  cross-dressing, blackface performance and the use of stage space, lighting and costuming and investigates how popular and elite culture responded to immigration and the beginnings of colonial expansion and the slave trade. The module’s texts illuminate how increasing opportunities for women’s participation in theatrical culture, foreign policy under Elizabeth I and James I and the growth of a mercantile middle class are related to the development of English drama.

This module is aimed at SH English and CH English and Drama or History students. It has no prerequisites, although stage 1 module EAS1041 “Rethinking Shakespeare” is a good preparation.

Module aims - intentions of the module

As well as studying individual texts in depth, we will investigate links between texts, and between texts and their production contexts. The module will enable you to understand how fashions, theatre companies, historical events and technical/architectural developments shaped English drama in the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline periods. Lectures and portfolio tasks will encourage research and interpretation that bring together literary analysis with theatre history and a sensitivity to performance, with assessments spread across the entire term to help you manage your workload and ensure you get the opportunity to learn and try out a range of research and communication skills that you will be able to re-use in other contexts. Module activities, including interactive workshops, will encourage you to think more practically about the staging of specific scenes in early modern theatre spaces. Viewing recordings of productions will enable an appreciation of early modern drama in present-day performance.  Study group discussions and group presentations or their online equivalents will give you the opportunity to develop your own approaches to the syllabus texts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of specific works of English drama from the late Elizabethan to the Caroline period.
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the historical and cultural development of English drama and its role in constructing gendered, sexual, national and racial identities from the late Elizabethan to the Caroline period.
  • 3. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of a variety of critical approaches to English drama from the late Elizabethan to the Caroline period, with a particular focus on premodern critical race studies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the drama of an earlier era and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its cultural, historical and theatrical contexts.
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to relate texts and discourses specific to your own discipline to issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, ethical questions, and theatre history methodologies and to apply these ideas to the interpretation of dramatic texts

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Through research and writing for your portfolio tasks and contribution to a video presentation, demonstrate appropriate research skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 8. Through your video essay and presentation, demonstrate a proficiency in orally communicating research and analysis clearly, engagingly and concisely.
  • 9. Through research, module discussion, presentation and writing, demonstrate a capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and critically to reflect on your own learning process.

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:

The syllabus will divide into two rough sections. In the first, we will study plays by Kyd, Shakespeare and Jonson and through those plays explore staging conditions and conventions in outdoor public theatres, at court, and in the Inns of Court.

In the second section, we will study plays that are written with the Jacobean and Caroline elite in mind. Here, we’ll look at plays by Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Cary (the only woman to write an original play in the period), Middleton and Rowley, and Brome.

While there are clear thematic connections between  the plays on the module that will give you a strong sense of overall coherence and incremental learning, the aim overall is to introduce you to as varied a diet of early modern drama as possible while critically interrogating these early modern English representations of diverse identities, mercantile and colonial expansion and the beginning of the slave trade – so expect a varied journey that takes you from farce, through comedy to tragicomedy, masque, historical tragedy to gruesome revenge drama. 

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 Teaching23Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Staging Workshops
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Online play reading workshop
Scheduled Learning and Teaching15Film screenings
Guided independent study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study65Group presentation preparation (formative and summative)
Guided independent study149Independent reading and research

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation and blog post5-minute contribution to group presentation and 700-word piece of writing based on the presentation.1-9Oral peer and tutor feedback for presentation within the seminar with opportunity for tutorial follow-up; 3 points for improvement on written submission within the portfolio portal.
Blog post700-word piece of writing1-7, 9

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
Portfolio (5 elements)75Five 700-word pieces of writing 1-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Group presentation155-minute contribution to a video group presentation1-6, 8-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Module participation10Throughout the term1-6, 8-9Opportunity for informal feedback in office hours.

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Portfolio (5 x 700 words)Portfolio (5 x 700 words)1-9Referral/deferral period
Group presentation (5-minute contribution to a video group presentation)3-minute video essay1-9Referral/Deferral period
Module participationRepeat Study/Mitigation1-6, 8-9Repeat Study/Mitigation

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

Primary texts

  • Simon Barker and Hilary Hinds, eds. The Routledge Anthology of Renaissance Drama (London, Routledge, 2003), [The Spanish Tragedy, Masque of Blackness, The Tragedy of Mariam, Epicene, The Changeling]
  • Kent Cartwright, ed. The Comedy of Errors. By William Shakespeare. Arden Shakespeare (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).
  • Suzanne Gossett, ed. Philaster, by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Arden Early Modern Drama (London: A&C. Black, 2009).
  • Ania Loomba, ed. Antony and Cleopatra. By William Shakespeare. Norton Critical Editions (W.W. Norton, 2011).
  • Ramona Wray, ed. The Tragedy of Mariam. by Elizabeth Cary. Arden Early Modern Drama (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)


For the above texts, it is not essential that you own the specific edition identified; any good scholarly edition of single texts is acceptable (in the New Mermaids or Revels series, for example). All the module’s primary texts are available as e-texts which you can access via the relevant pages on the module’s ELE site. If you cannot afford to buy the books for the module, you can combine reading one of these e-texts with using the library copies for notes and introductory materials. Of all the e-texts available, the one which will benefit most from being complemented with a physical copy of the play is Philaster.


Selected secondary texts

  • Pascale Aebischer, Jacobean Drama: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
  • Yasmin Arshad, Imagining Cleopatra: Performing Gender and Power in Early Modern England. Arden Studies in Early Modern Drama (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).
  • Dowd, Michelle M., and Tom Rutter, eds. The Arden Handbook of Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama: Perspectives on Culture, Performance and Identity (London: Bloomsbury, 2023).
  • Richard Dutton, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996)
  • Siobhan Keenan, Acting Companies and Their Plays in Shakespeare’s London. Arden Shakespeare. (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
  • Jane Milling and Peter Thomson, eds. The Cambridge History of British Theatre: Volume I: Origins to 1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Tiffany Stern, Making Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 2004)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Theatre history, Elizabethan drama, Stuart Drama, Caroline drama, premodern critical race studies, performance, tragedy, comedy, masque, tragicomedy Kyd, Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Cary, Middleton, Rowley, Jonson

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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