About this subject

Though they have been enjoyed by audiences for more than four centuries, an understanding of the social, historical, and cultural context in which Shakespeare’s plays were originally written and performed is vital to engaging fully with them. This programme combines close textual and literary analysis of selected Shakespeare plays with a deeper understanding of their contemporary context.

You will look at three core themes of this context. First – politics. In his lifetime Shakespeare witnessed the successes of England’s ‘Golden Age’, the ructions of a change of royal dynasty, and the establishment of the first English colonies in North America – how did the political events of his lifetime influence his plays? The second theme is religion. The English Reformation, set in motion under Henry VIII, led to significant religious division in the decades prior to Shakespeare’s birth and into his own time. You will explore how this division is reflected in Shakespeare’s plays, and whether the playwright’s own religious sympathies may be revealed in his work. The final area of context discussed in this programme is the contemporary theatre itself. The Globe, Shakespeare’s theatre on London’s south bank, was one of many thriving playhouses in Elizabethan and Jacobean London. A close reading of texts will be used to explore how Shakespeare considered staging, costume, and the audience experience in the composition of his plays.

Plays studied in this programme include The Tempest, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Learning outcomes

After studying this subject you will:

  • Be able to read and respond critically to selected Shakespeare plays.
  • Develop a knowledge and understanding of Early Modern England.
  • Understand a range of social, cultural, and historical influences on Shakespeare’s work.
  • Possess a precise and professional technical vocabulary for discussing Elizabethan theatre.

Who is this subject suitable for?

This subject would suit students of the Humanities, especially those with a background in English Literature, Theatre, Dramatic Arts, or History. Previous experience of studying Shakespeare is not required.

Dates and availability

Applications closed for 2022.

Expand your programme

You can expand your programme by taking more than one subject.

We recommend combining this subject with:

Shakespeare in Reception

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Find out more about the admissions criteria, programme fees, and how to apply.

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