Bader International Study Centre


at Herstmonceux Castle, U.K.



at Herstmonceux Castle, U.K.

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ENGL 257/3.0 - Elizabethan Shakespeare

Instructor: Dr. Peter Lowe

Course Description

This course will use seven of Shakespeare’s early plays to explore the social, intellectual, and political nature of the Elizabethan world in which he lived and wrote.  Elizabeth I came to the throne amidst hopes of a new ‘Golden Age’ for England, and in many respects these hopes were fulfilled through a wealth of new scientific and intellectual discoveries, and the exploration and colonisation of new countries far from home.  If the Elizabethan world was a changing one, however, it was also highly unstable, as religious tensions and grievances flared up into revolt and treason, and the pace of social change led to widespread civil unrest.  

Through a comparative study of a range of plays we will see how he interrogated and explored the complexities of political power and the effects it has on those who wield it and those upon whom it is used.  We will also see him charting the growth of the ruler, from wayward prince to sober and responsible king, and will then consider how power may be analysed and used in different forms.

Expected Learning Outcomes

At the completion of the course, students enrolled in ENGL 257 will be expected to have gained the following knowledge and skills:

  • A deeper appreciation of the plays as works written for the theatre and for their relevance as cultural documents that can help us understand something of the world in which they were forged; and
  • The ability to read closely and to develop a richer understanding of how Shakespeare made use of the English language and how he developed that language to suit his purposes.
Field Studies

The first field study will be to the National Theatre in London where we will see a modern staging of Marlowe’s Edward II to complement the study of the play in class and open up new ways of thinking about the text.  The second will involve a visit the exhibition ‘Elizabeth and her People’ at the National Portrait Gallery London, which brings together images not just of the Queen and her ministers, but of ‘ordinary’ men and women from the England in which Shakespeare lived.  This will complement the study of the plays by allowing students to consider how people chose to ‘see’ and be seen by each other in a highly visual and symbolic culture.

Primary Research Expectations

Students will be required to engage with the seven plays studied over the course. As well, field study visits will allow students to explore further primary materials in order to develop a more complete understanding of the context of the performance texts and the interpretations that may be brought to bear on a literary work.


Students will be evaluated on the following assignments over the two terms of the course:

  • A comparative research paper of about 3000 words will be worth 40% of the students’ final grade; 
  • A field study essay will be written in response to one of the field studies will be worth 15% of the students’ final grade;
  • An end-of-course critical analysis examination will be worth 25% of the students’ final grade; and
  • Class participation will be worth 20% of the students’ final grade.