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Shakespeare’s London

Key information

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Module description

Our Scene is London…

Taught in collaboration with academic staff and theatre practitioners at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, this module aims to take full advantage of the fact that we are able to study Shakespeare’s plays in the city in which they were written and first performed. Through seminars at King’s, and lectures, seminars, workshops and demonstrations at Shakespeare’s Globe, you will learn about the cultural, theatrical, political and social contexts in which plays were produced, and we will explore the extent to which Shakespeare’s plays were shaped by the environments in which he lived and worked. Focusing on the early to middle section of Shakespeare’s career, we will look at a spread of plays from different genres, such as 1 Henry IV, Julius Caesar, Othello, Twelfth Night and Macbeth. In doing so, we will engage with topics such as urban place and space, social status, ideas of history and memory, immigration, race and multiculturalism, gender identity and experience, and topicality, terrorism and state control. We will also draw on one of the most important Elizabethan works about London, John Stow’s A Survey of London Written in the Year 1598, and the plays of Shakespeare’s contemporaries such as Chapman, Dekker, Heywood, Jonson, Marston and Munday. 


Assessment details

Online seminar preparation task (15%); 3-hour open-book exam (85%)

Educational aims & objectives

This module explores the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and the social, cultural, political and theatrical environments in which they were written. It tests out two ideas: (1) that the plays are the product of the diverse, multicultural urban environment in which they were written, even when they are set in locations such as France, Illyria, Venice, Cyprus, ancient Rome and medieval Scotland; and (2) that they are shaped by the conventions of the theatres and actors for which Shakespeare was writing.

Learning outcomes

On completing this module you will be able to:

  • analyse Shakespeare’s plays as literary and theatrical documents;
  • consider the impact of aspects of theatrical practice, such as sound, music, costume, visual spectacle, casting, movement and speaking, and playhouse architecture on early modern drama, and assess their relationship with factors such as race, nationality, gender, sexuality, authority and status;
  • assess the relationship between texts and their contexts of composition and performance;
  • use contextual materials to assess the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and their early modern environments;
  • synthesise, evaluate and put to use a range of critical approaches to Shakespeare’s plays;
  • assess the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and those of his contemporaries;
  • express complex ideas about all of the above in oral and written formats.

Teaching pattern

One lecture and one seminar or workshop weekly.

You will spend three weeks at Shakespeare’s Globe, where the teaching will include lectures, seminars and/or workshops with Globe academics and practitioners. At King’s, lectures will explore the London contexts of the core plays, while seminars will focus closely on textual, theatrical and critical issues within them. The online seminar preparation task encourages you to engage with a range of critical materials and to develop your ideas ahead of classes.

Suggested reading list

Electronic editions of all set texts will be available through the Maughan Library and Senate House Library. If you wish to buy your own complete works of Shakespeare, we recommend the third edition of the Norton Shakespeare, gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2015); if you buy this you also get an electronic edition that you can use on a laptop or tablet.

A typical week’s reading depends on whether the classes that week are at King’s or the Globe. A typical week’s reading for classes at King’s consists of a Shakespeare play; a typical week’s reading for classes at Shakespeare’s Globe consists of two or three pieces of critical or contextual reading.

Please contact the module convenor if you would like to see the module handbook from a previous year.

Module description disclaimer

King’s College London reviews the modules offered on a regular basis to provide up-to-date, innovative and relevant programmes of study. Therefore, modules offered may change. We suggest you keep an eye on the course finder on our website for updates.

Please note that modules with a practical component will be capped due to educational requirements, which may mean that we cannot guarantee a place to all students who elect to study this module.

Please note that the module descriptions above are related to the current academic year and are subject to change.