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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Undergraduate Course: Political Shakespeare (ENLI10347)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines the political questions that matter most within a range of primarily historical and tragic dramas written across Shakespeare's career. Its first part will focus on a sequence of early plays and it will consider how these works address the political divisions and dilemmas that dominated late Elizabethan culture. Its second part will examine the shared concerns of three plays, all written in close proximity at the end of the sixteenth century, with questions of succession, resistance, and the rise of a new form of political sovereignty. To conclude, the course will consider the impact of the Jacobean succession on Shakespeare's political thought and dramatic composition. It will consider how James VI/I's mode of kingship affected Shakespeare's understanding of political life.
Course description What do Shakespeare¿s plays have to tell us about politics? In this course, we will consider how a range of works in different genres responded to the controversies that dominated their historical moment and their continuing significance for our world. These plays are deeply concerned with fundamental political questions: how is authority is achieved, exercised, challenged, and lost? What power-relations hold between different social classes, between men and women, between different generations and between different racial groups?
To explore these issues, the course will be organised around three key questions: firstly, what happens when authority exceeds its limits (or fails) and its legitimacy is called into question? How is active opposition enacted and what challenges does it confront? Second, what tensions and conflicts arise in urban life, especially those associated with uncivil behaviour? What impact does this have on the experience of women in patriarchal societies? Finally, how are racial and cultural differences experienced in colonial contexts? How do discourses of racial ¿otherness¿ affect those subjected to them?
The plays¿ exploration of these topics will be considered alongside some key examples of the political thought that was available to Shakespeare and the competing ways in which they have been interpreted in criticism and performance.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: ( Literary Studies 1A (ENLI08020) AND Literary Studies 1B (ENLI08021) OR English Literature 1 (ENLI08001) AND Scottish Literature 1 (ENLI08016)) AND ( Literary Studies 2A: English Literature in the World, 1380-1788 (ENLI08024) AND Literary Studies 2B: English Literature in the World, post-1789 (ENLI08025) OR Scottish Literature 2A (ENLI08022) AND Scottish Literature 2B (ENLI08023) OR English Literature 2 (ENLI08003) AND Scottish Literature 2 (ENLI08004))
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Additional Costs Essential course texts
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. By the end of the course, students will have an overview of how Shakespeare's political thought developed across his career as a dramatist.
  2. In their work for this course, students will be able to demonstrate knowledge and critical engagement with the core political ideas and preoccupations of Shakespeare's plays in a variety of genres.
  3. IIn their work for this course, students will have learned how Shakespeare's plays intervened in the key political debates of their time.
  4. In their work for this course, students will be able to demonstrate an awareness of the key critical debates elicited by Shakespeare's political drama.
  5. By the end of the course, students will be able to demonstrate the ability to reflect constructively on the development of their own learning and research practice.
Reading List

Power struggles

Richard II

Julius Caesar

Civility and the City

Romeo and Juliet

Measure for Measure

Race and Empire


Antony and Cleopatra

The Tempest

Primary Text
A contemporary edition of the complete works of Shakespeare; either the Norton or RSC Shakespeare are good editions:
The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. 3rd edition. New York: Norton, 2015.
The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works, eds Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen. Palgrave, 2008.
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information Seminar: 2 hour(s) per week for 10 week(s):

plus attendance for one hour a week at Autonomous Learning Group - at times to be arranged.
Course organiserDr Dermot Cavanagh
Tel: (0131 6)50 3618
Course secretaryMs Sheila Strathdee
Tel: (0131 6)50 3619
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