Shakespeare's World

Tutor: David Wootton

Module type: Period Topic

Module code: HIS00022C

Students taking this module will read (or listen to, or watch) more than a dozen plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The plays will be used as a mirror in which to see the beliefs and values of the audience for which they were written.

Key themes that will be explored include politics, religion, marriage, and honour. These were subjects on which there was a good deal of disagreement amongst Shakespeare’s contemporaries, so that plays had to be open to a number of different, contrasting interpretations depending on the convictions of individual members of the audience. Students will be encouraged to find several different possible meanings within each text.

This course will provide for students a novel approach to literary texts as an historical source as well as building on the skills which some of them may have acquired through sixth form study of English or modern languages.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. Machiavelli, The Prince; Castiglione, The Courtier; Montaigne, On Friendship
  2. Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1590); Shakesperare, Hamlet (1599)
  3. Marlowe, Faustus (1593); Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611)
  4. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1595); Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1614)
  5. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1600); Jonson, Sejanus (1603)
  6. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (1596); Jonson, Volpone (1605)
  7. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl (1611); Fletcher, The Woman’s Prize (1610)
  8. A.D. Nuttall, Shakespeare the Thinker


To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

  • Riggs, David. The World of Christopher Marlowe. London: Faber, 2004.
  • Shapiro, James. 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. London: Faber, 2005