Early Modern English Literature: Text & Transmission




Part Time, Full Time

| Admissions status: Open
Core programme content
Core module:
  • Dissertation

Indicative non-core content
Compulsory modules:
  • Working with Early Modern Literary Texts (taught at King's)
  • The Material Legacy of Early Modern Literary Texts (taught at the British library)
Option modules
Students must take two option modules.  Recommended options may include:
  • Family Politics in Early Modern England
  • Global/Local Shakespeares
  • Flatter and Fawn: Early Modern Drama and the Court
  • Professing Writing
  • Theatre, Gender & Culture in Jacobean London

Students may also choose from a wide range of option modules offered on other English Department MA Programmes, or modules from another departments in the School, subject to agreement by the programme leader.

NB This is an indicative list only. For further information see the department's module description pages.

Core and optional modules assessed by coursework, plus a dissertation.

More information on typical programme modules.
NB it cannot be guaranteed that all modules are offered in any particular academic year.

Module code: 7AAEM603
Credit level: 7

This module (taught by the British Library) introduces students to early modern manuscripts and printed books as physical artifacts and focuses on the main stages of their production, circulation and consumption. Special emphasis is placed on the agents involved in their transmission, including the authors, scribes, annotators, compositors and correctors, booksellers and bookbinders, who collaboratively produced manuscript and printed books, and the patrons, censoring authorities and the general book-buying public, who affected the way in which early modern books were written, published and distributed.

Although the primary theme of this module is the transmission and material legacy of early modern literary texts, this module considers a wider range of books, in order to help students establish how the publication and consumption of early modern literature related to other areas of the book trade. By the end of this course students will have learned how to produce and to interpret bibliographical descriptions of early modern manuscripts and printed books, how to identify and search major collections held at the British Library and other major research libraries worldwide, and how to reconstruct the transmission of literary texts in the early modern period and their afterlives in libraries and private collections since then.
Module code: 7AAEM641
Credit level: 7

This course makes students aware of the various forms of ‘publication’ through which early modern literary texts reached their target audience. Special emphasis is placed on the connotations, advantages and limitations associated with the medium of their transmission (manuscript, print, performance) and the influence of the ‘three houses’ – the great house (aristocratic patronage), the playhouse (the rise of commercial drama) and the printing house (the book trade and the rise of a literary market) – on their composition, their reception in the early modern period and their legacy for the modern reader/spectator.

Each class will focus on specific study-cases, which may vary from year to year, depending on staff research interest and availability. A representative list of dramatic texts may include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, King Lear and Henry VIII, Middleton’s Hengist, King of Kent; Or, The Mayor of Queenborough, Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling, and Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Particular attention will also be paid to a range of early modern poets, including Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney and Shakespeare.

Teaching staff: Dr Hannah Crawforth
Module code: 7AAEM664
Credit level: 7
Credit value: 20
Semester:  Semester 2 (spring) 
Teaching pattern: 1 x two hour seminar weekly
Assessment:  coursework 
1 x 4,000 word essay

In 1595, the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell was gruesomely executed for adhering to Catholic practices, in defiance of his family who begged him to save his own life by conforming – as they did – to the new Protestant doctrine. In a letter addressed to his father on the eve of his execution at Tyburn, Southwell denounced his parents and rejected their beliefs in damning terms. He would rather die than recant, and felt nothing but shame at what he perceived as his father’s lack of courage. It is difficult to imagine a more striking, or deadly, example of inter-familial conflict. This course will look at issues that bring about conflict in Early Modern families, ranging from marriage, education, religion, and politics to incest, scandal and rebellion.


NB: The 2014-15 module description is not yet available.
Teaching staff: Dr Sonia Massai
Module code: 7AAEM620
Credit level: 7
Credit value: 20
Semester:  Semester 2 (spring) 
Teaching pattern: One two-hour weekly seminar and viewing
Assessment:  coursework 
1 x 4,000 word essay

This module focuses on the roles played by recent theatrical appropriations of Shakespeare in an increasingly globalised cultural market. Students will be introduced to the history of Shakespearean reception within a selection of localities and cultures and will be asked to consider whether the shift from Shakespeare as ‘national poet’ to Shakespeare as ‘global playwright’ has transformed Shakespeare into a successful global logo or brand-name. Students will also be invited to establish whether Shakespeare has become a universalising force, through which the values of Western dominant localities are imposed on other theatre cultures, or whether those who still choose to ‘mean by Shakespeare’ produce creative and radical intercultural exchanges.

Students will be encouraged to address these issues by comparing a wide range of mainstream and alternative / fringe theatrical appropriations from a variety of critical approaches and from a range of localities, both within and beyond Anglophone cultures. A range of theoretical tools will be used to facilitate critical analysis of complex intercultural appropriations, including the concept of “hybridity” formulated by recent post-colonial critics and Bourdieu’s notions of “cultural capital”, “cultural field”, and “position taking”.

Theatre directors are invited to co-lead seminar sessions (on average a couple of sessions each year) as part of the delivery of this module.

Students are encouraged to attend productions during the first semester with a view to bringing a range of audience experiences to the seminar discussions in semester two.

Ideal preparation for this module would include the following reading:

Barbara Hodgdon and William B Worthen, A Companion to Shakespeare in Performance (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005)
Margaret Jane Kidnie, Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation (London: Routledge, 2009)
Sonia Massai (ed.), Worldwide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance (London: Routledge, 2005)
William B Worthen, Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Teaching staff: Professor Gordon McMullan
Module code: 7AAEM220
Credit level: 7
Credit value: 20
Semester:  Semester 2 (spring) 
Teaching pattern: One two-hour seminar weekly
Assessment:  coursework 
1 x 4,000 word essay

This module explores the relations of theatre, gender and culture in London in the reign of James I (1603-1625). We will read plays from the London stage as anatomies of Jacobean urban culture, reflecting on the shape and growth of London at this time, on the significance of the locations of the theatres, on patterns of exchange and credit, on religion and superstition and their dramatic ramifications, on particular year-long periods in Jacobean history and the ways in which the theatre dealt with current affairs, on the varieties of tragedy both in their Jacobean context and in the context of current critical theories, and on the ways in which Jacobean Protestant, patriarchal culture addressed a range of ‘others’ from women to Muslims. We will do all of this by looking closely at key plays in the Shakespeare canon and at cognate texts by other writers, mostly dramatic, so as both to develop our understanding of the Shakespeare canon and to demonstrate that Shakespeare offers only one of many contemporary ways of addressing Jacobean culture. In the process we will immerse ourselves in a vibrant literary culture that brings onto the professional stage everything from violence to voyeurism, from witches to widows, from conversion to colonialism, and from silent men to talking dogs.

In a given week, we will typically (though not always) look at a well-known Shakespeare play from the latter half of his career – Macbeth, say – alongside other Jacobean plays that address the same or connected issues – in Macbeth’s case, this means ‘witchcraft plays’ such as The Witch of Edmonton and Sophonisba.

The overall aim is to build up a comprehensive picture of the context for the second half of Shakespeare’s writing life, of the ways in which the Jacobean stage responded to and constructed the culture it inhabited, of the subjectivities and gender-identities of those whose lives were affected by it, and (building on first semester methodologies work) of the range of ways in which we in the early 21st century might address these matters critically.

Programme leader/s
Dr Sarah Lewis, Department of English, Programme Convenor
Awarding institution
King's College London
Credit value (UK/ECTS equivalent)
UK 180/ECTS 90
One year FT, two years PT, September to September.
Strand Campus and British Library.
Student destinations
We expect some students will pursue PhD level study in the area, leading to a teaching or academic career. Other students will be ideally placed for jobs in the arts, creative and cultural industries, curatorship and broadcasting.
Year of entry 2015
Offered by
Maughan Library