Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)

Module ENGL42130: Shakespeare in Context

Department: English Studies

ENGL42130: Shakespeare in Context

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2017/18 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • Building upon analytic and persuasive skills acquired at undergraduate level, the module will introduce students to the textual and contextual world of Shakespeare. Students are expected to read in detail specified works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries (e.g. Kyd, Marlowe, Jonson, John Florio, Walter Raleigh, Richard Hakluyt, Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Elizabeth I, Michel de Montaigne, John Fletcher). Students will develop their skills in close reading (rhetoric, poetics, interpretation) and political, philosophical, historical and other contexts. These objectives will be met through the requirements that students undertake appropriate reading and writing for seminars and through the assessment process (2 essays of 3,000 words, one on Shakespeare and another requiring comparison between Shakespeare and least one of his contemporaries studied).


  • This module discusses a wide range of texts: Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis; The Rape of Lucrece;' selected sonnets; Richard III, Richard II, Henry V, Henry VIII; Twelfth Night; Titus Andronicus; Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra; Hamlet; The Tempest; Marlowe's Edward II; Jonson's Volpone; Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (front matter and a very brief selection); Florio's translation of Montaigne's essays 'Of Cannibals' and 'Of Coaches;' Sidney's Apology; Astrophel and Stella 1 and 2; Spenser's Present State; Amoretti 1 and 2, parts of Faerie Queene, Bk V and 'Letter to Ralegh;' Elizabeth I, Letter to Henry Sidney March 31, 1567, Letters to Mary Queen of Scots, November 23, 1561, October 15, 1562; December 21, 1568, February 1, 1571, October 1586; ; Letter to Francis Walsingham February 11, 1570; Speech to her Last Parliament (The Golden Speech) (1601); Letters to James VI of Scotland, February 14, 1587 and January 5, 1603; Charter to Walter Ralegh, 1584; Thomas North's Plutarch, trans. from the French of Jacques Amyot, 1579.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • This module explores Shakespeare and will discuss his poetic and dramatic texts --in and of themselves and in comparison with the work of his contemporaries -- as aesthetic, ethical, historical, political and social works.
  • The module examines the English histories on their own terms but also in relation to Marlowe's Edward II; the Roman plays in and of themselves but also in relation to North's translation of Plutarch; Titus and Hamlet as Shakespearean tragedy but also as revenge tragedies in the wake of Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy; Twelfth Night as a romantic comedy but also one of gulls and dupes like Jonson's Volpone; Shakespeare's sonnets as themselves but also in relation to those of Sidney and Spenser; Shakespeare's political plays and dramas of empires and colonies (internal and external colonization) like Henry V and The Tempest but also in relation to Spenser's 'Present State'' and Faerie Queene V; Hakluyt's Principall Navigations (brief selections) and Elizabeth I's selected letters and her charter for Ralegh; Shakespeare's poetics --narrative poems, sonnets and plays as genres (form and content) -- in terms of Sidney's Apology and Spenser's 'Letter to Raleigh.'
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary texts;
  • an ability to demonstrate advanced knowledge of a chosen field of literary studies;
  • an ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level an imaginative response to literature;
  • an ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the cultural, intellectual, socio-political and linguistic contexts of literature;
  • an ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material;
  • an advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning; an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate an advanced knowledge and conceptual understanding within seminars; the capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two assessed pieces of work.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 50%
Essay 2 3000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

One essay (2,000 words maximum).

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University