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Playing Politics in Early Modern Europe - HIS00021C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mark Hutchinson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

By focusing on four plays and the historical issues with which they concern themselves, this module will introduce students to a fresh way of looking at key themes in early modern history. Issues such as honour, social status, devotion, the after-life and metropolitan values will each be discussed in general terms in one seminar and in detail with reference to a particular contemporary text, drawn from English, French and Spanish playwrights, available in translation. To what extent were plays political, and what role did the arts play in commenting on - and mediating - difficult processes of change such as the Reformation, the discovery of the New World and tensions between social orders?

The plays will be used as a mirror in which to see the beliefs and values of the audience for which they were written. However, that does not mean that these are sources which are easy or straightforward to use, and students will develop skills of teasing out meaning from complex artifacts. Indeed, religion, honour, slavery and rebellion were subjects on which there was considerable disagreement amongst contemporaries, so plays had to be open to a number of contrasting interpretations - that flexibility was the key to their strength both as entertainment and provocation. Students will be encouraged to explore the possibilities of there being several different meanings within each text.

In addition to exploring these themes the module will raise general issues about the relationship between literature and history, and the role of the theatre in society.

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

  1. The Reformation: conscience and social relations
  2. Hamlet (Shakespeare)
  3. Lord and Peasant
  4. Fuente Ovejuna (Lope de Vega)
  5. Love and Marriage
  6. The School for Wives (Moliere)
  7. Europe and the New World
  8. The Widow Ranter (Benn) or Oronooko (Southerne)


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options.


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Bouwsma, William James. The Waning of the Renaissance, 1500-1640. New Haven : Yale University Press c2000.

Cameron, Euan (ed.). Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.