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SEL2232 : Stagecraft in Early Drama

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr James Cummings
  • Lecturer: Dr Kate De Rycker
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 150 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


Themes explored in this module include:
- Performance (e.g. audiences, actors, staging, metadrama);
- Material culture (e.g. props, special effects, costumes);
- Dramatic representation of identity (e.g. race, sexuality, gender, class);
- Politics and religion (e.g. containment v. subversion)

This module takes a creative, imaginative, and practical approach to pre-1642 drama. Our focus on ‘stagecraft’ means that we will be investigating scenes from late Medieval and Renaissance plays to see how they actually worked under the conditions for which they were written and how they might be performed today. We will explore how you can conjure up a devil onstage, what makes effective stage blood, and consider what it was like to see a female audience member hijack a performance. Early drama was also a subversive medium of entertainment, and so we will be exploring the wider social and political ramifications of these plays: if an actor can perform royalty simply by putting on a crown, then what really is the difference between a stage-king and a real one? How can you get away with speaking blasphemy and profanity onstage?

Outline Of Syllabus

The texts studied in this module range from the late-medieval up until the closing of the London theatres in 1642. Although we will generally study them in a chronological order, we want you to think about connections across the entire period, engaging with plays according to shared themes (e.g. theatrical subversion, women on stage, saints and devils). While well-known authors like Christopher Marlowe and medieval plays like 'Mankind' will be making an appearance, this is also an opportunity for you to discover some less well-known plays like ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’ and ‘The Croxton Play of the Sacrament’.

This module will focus on the original staging of early drama while considering the possibilities for modernising performances. What sort of special effects were possible at this time, and how did the theatrical space help or hinder these effects? How are magic, horror, and racial or sexual ambiguity portrayed in these plays, and why? To help us answer some of these questions, we will explore and experiment with selected scenes during our seminars.

Note: Some reading-based performance will be required in seminars.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion180:0080:00Preparation of project/portfolio assessment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture231:0023:00Module Lecture
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading177:0077:00Lecture / Seminar preparation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Module Seminar
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity101:0010:00Student Study Groups
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce the students to key literary texts, key concepts, and critical paradigms. They will also provide textual investigations to help students with the language and close reading of early texts. As all the texts are dramatic, seminars will investigate the texts of these plays and their performance possibilities. Some investigation of practical performance skills will take place during the seminars. These also help to develop their communication and analytical skills. Study groups will help to develop students' teamwork, leadership and problem solving skills.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M25Mid-Module Assessment (1500 words)
Case study1A75Final Assessment (2500 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Students will be assessed by the submission of a mid-module written assignment and final written assignment (usually an essay but with a creative option). The mid-module assignment (25%, 1500 words) will focus on close reading for the performance aspects of a single text. The final assignment (75%, 2500 words) will focus on comparing a theme through two or more texts studied on the module.

Reading Lists