Spectacular Bodies: Shakespeare and Counter-cultural Performance (EAS3231)

StaffProfessor Pascale Aebischer - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to sharpen the students’ awareness of the ideological and political purposes served by twentieth- and twenty-first-century interpretations of early modern drama. Students will be taught to analyse a wide range of performances, on stage, film, digital video and online video-streaming and file-sharing sites. Through individual research and seminar discussions, students will learn to reflect critically on the political work carried out by such performances. In particular, they will reflect on questions such as:

-       When filmmakers, theatre practitioners, artists and critics make us look once more at these early modern bodies in their work, what are they telling us about the power and purchase of early modern drama and/or Shakespeare in our culture?

-       What is achieved by the traumatic portrayal of early modern bodies in the plays and in their modern and intermedial interpretations?

-       How can the theoretical frameworks of performance studies, gender and queer studies, race studies and trauma studies help us assess the ‘work’ these bodies do in present-day performances?

-       To what extent does the opposition between mainstream Shakespeare and his counter-cultural ‘Jacobean’ fellow playwrights structure our responses to these plays?

Students will also learn to work with a range of performance-related materials, investigating film artefacts in the Bill Douglas Centre archives, working with screenplays, and exploring digital performances and technologies through use of the surface tables in Forum Exploration Lab 2. In the process, students will gain experience in archival research and improve their IT skills. Since much of the teaching and preparation for seminars in this module involves group work, students will develop their team-working skills and learn to provide constructive feedback to the work of their peers, both face-to-face and via the ELE forum. The emphasis, in seminars, on bringing into the sessions material prepared beforehand will strengthen students’ presentation skills and confidence, while the assessment component consisting of review-writing is designed to prepare students for the workplace, where writing style and word counts have to match very specific requirements which differ, in crucial ways, from essay-writing. The assessment component consisting of a traditional essay, meanwhile, will enable students to build on their essay-writing skills. The division of this assessment into an abstract and an essay models professional scholarly research and writing practices.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate the ability to make use of Renaissance contextual material and modern criticism in your assessment of the representation of bodies in early modern plays
  • 2. engage critically with, and apply appropriate analytical frameworks to the representation of bodies in modern stage and screen productions of plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster and Middleton and write reviews of such productions.
  • 3. distinguish between the representation of early modern characters in the playtexts and their roles in performance.
  • 4. establish connections between a range of playtexts, performance texts and artefacts and show an understanding of their cultural impact.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the dramatic literature of the Renaissance and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 6. demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to your own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 7. demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary and film texts as well as online materials and physical artefacts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 9. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 10. through research for seminars, essays, and presentations, including archival work and the use of computers, demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 11. through review-writing, demonstrate an advanced capacity to adapt individual writing styles to the requirements of a specific genre and type of publication.

Syllabus plan

The syllabus combines key plays by Shakespeare and classic film adaptations of those plays with some of the most powerful and influential plays by his fellow-playwrights Marlowe, Webster and Middleton. Indicative syllabus plan:


Block 1: rape and race

Titus Andronicus


Henry IV


Block 2: queer and counter-cultural resistances

Henry IV


Edward II

The Cook the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover


Block 3: Shakespeare vs. the contemporary Jacobean


Revenger’s Tragedy

Romeo and Juliet

The Duchess of Malfi


Key plays by Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus, Othello, The Tempest,  Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV


Key plays by ‘Jacobean’ dramatists: Marlowe, Edward II, Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Webster, The Duchess of Malfi


Films: Julie Taymor, Titus; Orson Welles, Othello; Stuart Burge, Othello; Derek Jarman, Edward II; Peter Greenaway, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Julie Taymor, The Tempest; Peter Greenaway, Prospero’s Books; Derek Jarman, The Tempest; Laurence Olivier, Hamlet; Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet; Alex Cox, Revengers Tragedy; John Madden, Shakespeare in Love; Troma films, Tromeo and Juliet; Mike Figgis, Hotel; Gus van Sant, My Own Private Idaho; Harry Lennix, Henry IV.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities11Workshops
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities33Film screenings
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities4Theatre visit
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities1Supervised study group work in Bill Douglas Centre
Guided Independent study77Individual seminar preparation
Guided Independent study32Study group preparation
Guided Independent study120Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Review draft 1000 words2-4, 6-7, 11Peer and tutor feedback on ELE
Abstract 500 words1-7, 9-10Oral feedback in seminars and office hours
Group presentations10-15 minutes1-8, 10Oral feedback in seminar discussion

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Performance review201000 words2-4, 6-7, 11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Performance review301500 words2-4, 6-7, 11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay503500 words1-7, 9-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Review 1000 wordsReview 1000 words2-4, 6-7, 11Referral/deferral period
Review 1500 wordsReview 1000 words2-4, 6-7, 11Referral/deferral period
Essay 3500 wordsEssay 3500 words1-7, 9-10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading:

William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Othello, The Tempest, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV

John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

Christopher Marlowe, Edward II

Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy


Secondary Reading: 

Pascale Aebischer, Shakespeare’s Violated Bodies: Stage and Screen Performance (CUP, 2004) and Screening Early Modern Drama: Beyond Shakespeare (CUP, 2013)

Roberta Barker, Early Modern Tragedy, Gender and Performance, 1984-2000. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Marvin Carlson. The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine. (U of Michigan P, 2001).

Ailsa Grant Ferguson, Shakespeare, Cinema, Counter-Culture (Routledge, 2013)

Barbara Hodgdon and William B. Worthen, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance (Blackwell, 2005)

Kim Solga. Violence Against Women in Early Modern Performance: In/Visible Acts. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The module will be supported by an extensive Exeter Learning Environment site with reading lists, course materials and discussion forums.



Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Bill Douglas Centre archives.


Preparation for the first seminar:

Each student should bring to the first seminar three recent performance reviews of the same production of an early modern play (stage or screen). It helps if you’ve seen the production that is being reviewed, but it’s not essential that you have. Reviews can be found in newspapers (and newspaper databases, e.g. The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement) and/or in scholarly journals such as Shakespeare Bulletin, Shakespeare Survey, Shakespeare Quarterly, etc. Students should have read these reviews carefully and be ready to comment on them.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date

January 2013

Last revision date

February 2013

Key words search

Shakespeare, early modern drama, Renaissance, performance, performance studies, visual culture, violence, rape, trauma, queer, counter-culture, Webster, Middleton, Marlowe, film, stage, gender, race, digital