Infinite Variety: Shakespearean Drama

Dr George Yeats


This course teaches students how to understand and 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. 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.

Intended Audience

Anyone who is passionate about, or indeed just curious about, Shakespearean drama whether or not you are a literature or theatre major.

Previous Knowledge

The only requirement for the course is a high degree of fluency in reading English.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills

Students will acquire the following skills: critical thinking; cultural and historical awareness; appreciation of literary language; theatrical awareness; verbal presentation and discursive interaction.