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SEL3393 : Shakespeare's Show Business

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Kate De Rycker
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


In this module we will be demolishing the canonical status of William Shakespeare, by examining his work and his reputation against the realities of writing for the professional stage. We like to think of Shakespeare as a solitary genius, writing 'Hamlet' by candlelight alone in his room, but was this really the case? Instead, we’ll find him collaborating with other actors and authors to compete for audience attention in the booming theatre district which grew up next to the pubs, brothels, and bear-baiting rings of London’s suburbs. We’ll then follow Shakespeare into the print shops around St Paul’s Churchyard, and see the messy process by which his scripts (and those of his contemporaries) were printed and advertised to a growing fanbase.

Outline Of Syllabus

In the first part of this module, we will learn about the actors, writers, and critics involved in the theatrical and literary culture of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. How did Shakespeare adapt a best-selling prose romance into 'As You Like It', and what changes did he have to make to the characters in this shift from the page to the stage? Why were moralists of the time worried about the effects of popular performance on audiences? How were women writers and readers represented on stage and how much control did they really have in literary production?

In the second part of the module, we will learn about the early modern printing process, and what clues it can tell us about censorship, adaptation, authorial control, and readers’ responses. We will get an opportunity to handle and examine early printed books in a trip to the University Library’s Special Collections, as well as exploring digitised versions of early printed books such as the ‘First Folio’. Why was Shakespeare more famous for writing his narrative poem 'Venus and Adonis' than for his plays before his death? How did the actors who published his collected works help to start the myth of his ‘natural genius’? Why are there three different versions of 'Hamlet', and which one would you choose to perform?

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion133:0033:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading180:0080:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching11:001:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork12:002:00Visit to archive
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity102:0020:00Study groups
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery12:002:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study130:0030:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce the students to literary texts, historical context and key critical concepts used on the course. The seminars will allow students to examine literary texts and historical documents more closely, and to develop their interpersonal communication and analytical skills. As many of the texts and contexts are dramatic, most seminars will also allow students to explore the potential for performance by using rehearsal techniques. The study groups will allow students to develop their independent research skills, and their selection of and engagement with critical texts. Students will also have the opportunity to practise their presentation skills and be given formative feedback in seminars and a final peer-review session, in the lead up to their final assessment. Finally, the course will include a visit to the Robinson library archives, where students will interact with archival material: this has proved to be a key moment for previous students’ understanding of the materiality of older literary texts, based on the archive visit feedback from previous years.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Reflective log1M30reflective reading journal (Total: 1000 words)
Written exercise1A70EITHER 3,000 word essay OR creative project with 1,750 word rationale.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The mid-term assessment of a reading journal is (a) fitting for a Renaissance module, as it is close to the commonplace books that Shakespeare et al. would have been taught to use in their education; (b) encourages active learning through reflection, (c) provides an opportunity for formative feedback, and (d) gives students the opportunity to identify a research question for their final assessment.

Students will have the option to submit their end-of-term assessment in the form of either (a) a 3,000 word essay or (b) a creative response to the course material with a 1,750 word rationale. Either choice must be driven by a clearly defined research question. Guidance will be given to ensure that those choosing the creative project keep it to a manageable scale.

Reading Lists