Infinite Variety: Shakespearean Drama

Dr George Yeats

ShakespeareThis course teaches students how to understand and to enjoy the ‘infinite variety’ (Antony and Cleopatra, 2.2.236) of Shakespearean drama: its eclectic use of styles and subjects; its adaptability to different modes of performance; its capacity to inspire alternative interpretations. Students will be guided through detailed study of five works taken from each stage of Shakespeare’s writing life and from each of his dramatic genres – comedy, history, tragedy and tragicomedy – in order to engage with the spectrum of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy. Throughout the course our attention will fall upon the remarkable capacity of Shakespeare’s dramatic writing to bring together, within a single play, contrasting scenes, plots, perspectives, actions, characters, and styles. Students will examine how, in his multi-cultural dramas, Shakespeare combines wordplay and swordplay, action and reflection, comedy and tragedy.

We will engage with fundamental questions of dramatic structure, genre and text. In the case of Hamlet we will consider the differences between its three early printed versions to ponder if it is indeed a single play or whether it might better be seen as a series of divergent and even contradictory scripts. As well as pondering those over-arching questions we will also analyse minute verbal details – such as the significance of puns, rhymes, speech rhythms and silences – to bring to life the marvellous richness of Shakespeare’s dramatic language. We will focus especially intently upon reconstructing the literary and theatrical conditions within which Shakespeare worked and will bear in mind how an awareness of Renaissance stage practices can illuminate the study of his scripts. While considering the relevance of Renaissance historical contexts to the plays we will also identify how Shakespeare’s explorations of such matters as politics, sexuality, religion, economics, and human identity make the dramas urgently relevant to our time.

This course is aimed at: As well as being suitable for those majoring in English the course is suitable for anyone with a desire to appreciate the mechanics and meanings of Shakespearean drama.

Pre-requisite knowledge: The only pre-requisite is that students should have read As you Like it, Henry the Fourth Part One (please do not confuse this with Shakespeare’s six other plays about Kings called ‘Henry’), Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter’s Tale before commencing the course.

Transferable knowledge and skills: Students will acquire the following skills: the ability to appreciate and analyse early modern drama; an appreciation of rhetoric, poetry and other features of literary language; the capacity of constructing, defending and revising an interpretation of a text; the capacity to verbal present and argue for your critical interpretations.


1 Final Essay (2,500-3,000 words): 50%

1 Final Exam: 50%

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)