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SEL2232 : Stagecraft in Early Drama

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • 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


This module involves studying pre-modern texts in their original language. It also involves reading parts aloud in seminars because we are approaching these plays as performances.

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

This module takes a creative, imaginative, and practical approach to pre-modern 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, decapitate someone, what makes effective stage blood, and consider what it was like to see a female audience member hijack a performance. Early drama was partly a community-building exercise but also a commercial one, and yet it was often 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? Why does a strongly religious culture produce plays which contain blasphemous jokes or profanity?

Outline Of Syllabus

The texts studied in this module range from the late-medieval period up until Shakespearean commercial theatre. This was a time of cataclysmic religious and social changes. This module challenges you to think about connections across these very different time periods, engaging with plays according to shared themes (e.g. practical performance opportunities, theatrical subversion, and the supernatural). 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. What sort of special effects were possible at this time, and how did the theatrical space help or hinder these effects?

Note: Some reading-based performance of texts in their original Middle English and Early-Modern English 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 students’ 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 exercise1M15Participation and Student Reflection (15%, 500 words)
Portfolio1A85Final Project (85%, 3000 words)
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MA mid-module formative quiz (500 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Students will have a mid-term formative quiz to consolidate knowledge on background and close reading of early texts (~500 words). Near the end of the module they will submit a reflection on their participation, worth 15% of the module grade (~500 words). The final assignment is a portfolio (85%, ~3000 words) which consists of either a single long comparative essay, two separate essays, or an agreed project’s outputs and rationale. The 15% participation will be graded using the criteria for assessing participation and engagement. The portfolio will be graded using the criteria for literature (essays) or public facing projects (where applicable).

Reading Lists