Shakespeare and the History of Ideas (TRU1100)

StaffDr Naya Tsentourou - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level4
Pre-requisitesNone. Applications to take this module by students from outside the Penryn Humanities department will be assessed by the module convenor and the Director of Education (Penryn Humanities) on a case-by-case basis.
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will introduce you to six of Shakespeare’s works, including five major plays and one poetic work. It will introduce and develop skills that will allow you to analyse the works competently through close reading and with reference to appropriately-documented critical writings. Weekly lectures will link the primary works, and extracts from other works by Shakespeare as appropriate, to key concepts in the history of ideas: thus, through the discussion of Shakespeare texts, you will be introduced to key notions in western thought, from ancient Greek philosophy to modern cultural history.

Lectures will draw on the research of individual lecturers, offering a week-by-week reading of the primary and secondary materials which you will then consider in seminars; the seminars will deepen your understanding and enable you to begin to develop your own responses through group discussion. In addition, you will independently explore and research your own ideas for written assignments, on which you will receive detailed feedback commenting on the intellectual content of your work, the understanding of key concepts shown and the mechanics of argument, grammar and style. Training in relevant skills, including research and close reading techniques, will be provided in weekly group workshop sessions.

In this way, you will practice a range of key skills of accumulating and processing information, analysing texts and cultural production, and researching and writing papers and presentations. In seminars you will practice the skills of debating ideas, managing tasks as a team, and presenting your own material to a group. These are all skills essential in the workplace. By the end of the module, you will have acquired a substantial body of information about the history of English literature and its place in western culture and will be able to potentially put that knowledge to practical use when pursuing future careers in (for instance) the communication, creative, arts, education, and media sectors.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Through seminar contributions and/or written work, demonstrate competent knowledge and understanding of specific elements within the history of western criticism
  • 2. Demonstrate a competent knowledge and understanding of the set works of Shakespeare

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate competence in the close reading and analysis of set texts
  • 4. Demonstrate the capacity to draw upon relevant critical writings when analysing literary texts, and competence in documenting these sources in bibliographies

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Demonstrate the ability to capably research, process and deploy information in written form to a set deadline and/or in a time-limited setting.
  • 6. Demonstrate the capacity to produce written work that conveys an argument competently, in clear and correct prose

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Shakespeare and Religion (Shakespeare, Augustine, Luther, Foxe)
  • Shakespeare and Political Theory (Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, James VI and I, Machiavelli)
  • Shakespeare and his Theatre (Shakespeare, Gosson, Stubbes, Dekker, Heywood)
  • Shakespeare and Power (Shakespeare, Greenblatt, Bacon)
  • Reading Week
  • Canonising Shakespeare (Shakespeare, Cavendish, Tate, Jonson, Holland on Garrick)
  • Shakespeare and the Romantics (Shakespeare, Hazlitt)
  • Victorian Shakespeare (Shakespeare, Millais, Rossetti, Brown, Dyce)
  • Shakespeare and Modernism (Shakespeare, Eliot, Woolf)
  • 20th-Century Shakespeare (Shakespeare, Stoppard, screening)
  • Shakespeare Today (Shakespeare, Atwood, Mullen, screening)
  • Shakespeare and the Classics (Shakespeare, Aristotle, Plato)

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 teaching22 Lecture (22 x 1 hour lecture)
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars (11 x 2-hour seminar): you will need to prepare for each seminar and to complete additional tasks as set by the tutor
Scheduled learning and teaching11Workshops (11 x 1-hour workshop): you will need to prepare for the workshops and to complete additional tasks as set by the tutor
Guided independent study11 Study-group meetings (11 x 1-hour meetings): independent student discussion of set study questions in assigned study groups
Guided independent study234Independent preparation for scheduled sessions, follow-up work, wider reading, completion of assessment tasks, etc

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Close-reading mock examination (‘unseen’ paper)1 hour2-3, 5-6Written comments
Essay1000 words1-6Written comments
Presentation (individual) 5-10 minutes1-2Oral feedback in booked office hour, based on tutor notesed office hour, based on tutor notes

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
Seminar participation10Continuous1-4Oral feedback and opportunity for office hours follow-up
Essay452000 words1-6Coversheet (written)
Examination ('unseen' paper)451 hour2-3, 5-6Coversheet (written)

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Seminar participationRepeat study or mitigation1-4Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-6Referral/Deferral period
Examination ('unseen')Examination ('unseen')2-3, 5-6Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment. 

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic Reading:

 Core Texts (you should purchase and read these works before the start of term):

  • William Shakespeare, As You Like It, ed. Juliet Dusinberre (London: Arden/Bloomsbury, 2004)
  • William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, ed. Martin Butler (Cambridge: New Cambridge Shakespeare/Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  • William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson (London: Arden/Bloomsbury, 2005)
  • William Shakespeare, Henry V, ed. T.W. Craik (London: Arden/Bloomsbury, 1995)
  • William Shakespeare, King Lear, ed. R.A. Foakes (London: Arden/Bloomsbury, 1997)
  • William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece. In William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Poems ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and H.R. Woudhuysen (London: Arden/Bloomsbury, 2007)

Note: Please ensure that you purchase the set Arden or New Cambridge editions of these Shakespeare works, as specified above.

You will also need to have access to Volume 1 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature (9th edition).

Recommended Secondary Reading (indicative):

You need not purchase these texts, but please read them during the course of the module.

  • Pascale Aebischer, Edward J. Esche, and Nigel Wheale, eds. Remaking Shakespeare: Performance Across Media, Genres and Cultures (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)
  • Jill, Kraye, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Isabel Rivers, Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989)
  • Nick Groom, Introducing Shakespeare: A Graphic Guide (London: Icon, 2010).
  • Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)
  • Frank Kermode, Shakespeare’s Language (London: Penguin, 2000)
  • A.D. Nuttall, Shakespeare the Thinker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
  • Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988)


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE:
  • British Library: Online Shakespeare Quartos
  • Folger Shakespeare Library
  • JSTOR (university log-in needed)
  • Project Muse (university log-in needed)
  • Shakespeare's Globe: Discovery Space
  • Shakespeare's Words
  • World Shakespeare Bibliography (university log-in needed) 

The ELE site for this module contains extensive resources including full-text articles, additional website links, and a digitised module reading list with links to the University of Exeter library’s e-book holdings and catalogue of resources.

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Michael Almereyda, dir., Anarchy (2014) starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris and Milla Jovovich [DVD: an adaptation of Cymbeline]
  • Michael Almeryda, dir., Hamlet (2000), starring Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan [DVD]
  • Kenneth Branagh, dir., As You Like It (2006), starring Romola Garai, Bryce Dallas Howard and Kevin Kline [DVD]
  • Kenneth Branagh, dir., Hamlet (1996), starring Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, and Derek Jacobi [DVD]
  • Kenneth Branagh, dir., Henry V (1989), starring Kenneth Branagh [DVD]
  • British Film Institute, Silent Shakespeare: King John/The Tempest/A Midsummers Night Dream/King Lear/Twelfth Night/Merchant of Venice/Richard III [DVD: a collection of early silent film adaptations of Shakespeare's works]
  • Tom Cairns, dir., Being Shakespeare  (2012), starring Simon Callow [DVD]
  • Paul Czinner, dir., As You Like It (1936), starring Laurence Olivier and Elizabeth Bergner [DVD]
  • Gregory Doran, dir., Hamlet (2010), starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart [DVD]
  • Dominic Dromgoole, dir., Shakespeare’s Globe: Henry V (2012), starring Jamie Parker [DVD]
  • Richard Eyre, dir., King Lear (1998), starring Ian Holm and Amanda Redman [DVD]
  • Akira Kurosawa, dir., Ran (1985), starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, and Yoshiko Miyazaki [DVD: an adaptation of King Lear]
  • Elijah Moshinsky, dir., Cymbeline (1983), starring Richard Johnson, Helen Mirren, and Michael Pennington [DVD]
  • Trevor Nunn and Chris Hunt, dir., King Lear (2007), starring Ian McKellen, Frances Barber, Monica Dolan, and Romola Garai [DVD]
  • Thea Sharrock, dir., The Hollow Crown: Henry V (2012), starring Tom Hiddleston, Julie Walters and John Hurt [DVD]
  • Tom Stoppard, dir., Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman [DVD]
  • Janice Sutherland, dir., Joely Richardson on Shakespeare's Women: Twelfth Night and As You Like It (2006) [DVD]

Available as distance learning?


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Key words search

Shakespeare, history, criticism, literature, drama