Shakespeare: the Tragedies

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
20 August 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This course provides a focussed encounter with Shakespeare’s four great tragedies: Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello. It offers the opportunity for close reading of texts which have consistently been posed against each other, as well as in relation to Shakespeare’s complete oeuvre. The course will interrogate the degree to which these plays are indeed ‘tragedies’, and the usefulness of this generic category for understanding the plays.

Each text will be approached in terms of a context or an idea or an issue which has orientated recent critical discussion of that particular play. The course will also seek to introduce students to some of the defining critical discussions of these plays, both singly and as a group. Throughout an effort will be made to read texts historically as well as in terms of their enduring and/or present significance.

Module aims

The aims of the module are:

1. To introduce students to Shakespeare's work through focussed attention to his principal tragedies
2. To familiarise students with the formal and generic innovativeness of these plays relative to sources and contexts (including Shakespeare's previous work)
3. To interrogate the generic aptness of the term 'tragedy' in each case.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module, students should be able to:

1. display more detailed knowledge of Shakespeare's principal tragedies
2. critically evaluate the formal and generic character of each play
3. approach the plays critically from within their own historical moments
4. demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to engage in intellectual debates around the issues raised by this module.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

Weekly 2-hour seminar


  • Shakespeare, William; Pechter, Edward. (c2004) Othello: authoritative text, sources and contexts, criticism, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. vol. A Norton critical edition
  • Shakespeare, William; Miola, Robert S. (c2011) Hamlet: text of the play, the actors' gallery, contexts, criticism, afterlives, resources, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. vol. A Norton critical edition
  • Shakespeare, William. (c2014) Macbeth: the text of Macbeth, the actors' gallery, sources and contexts, criticism, afterlives, resources, New York: W.W. Norton & Company. vol. A Norton critical edition
  • Shakespeare, William; Ioppolo, Grace. (c2008) King Lear: an authoritative text, sources, criticism, adaptations and responses, New York: W.W. Norton. vol. A Norton Critical edition

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework Participation marks 5%
Coursework Essay (4,000 words) 17/04/2020 95%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Professor John Gillies
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Prof Duncan James Salkeld
Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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