EL6045 - Political Theatre in Early Modern Britain

What will I learn on this module?

People thought and wrote about politics a lot in the early modern period. Just like today, lives and livelihoods hinged upon the attitudes, loyalties and alliances of those in power – and the theatre was a convenient and accessible place to think about (and sometimes to poke fun at) political figureheads and their ideologies. Also, because men like William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were, effectively, on the payroll of some of England’s wealthiest and most powerful men and women, their dramatic writings often carried distinct political agendas. Monarchs like Queen Elizabeth I and James VI/I were passionate about literature, and London’s best playwrights and acting companies were employed during their lavish coronation processions – and invited to perform at court during annual festivities. Drama from this period was not only influenced by politics, moreover, it had influential political clout, in and of itself. The theatre explored, explained, critiqued, and shaped political attitudes and ideas – at every level of society.

Building on your reading of early modern authors at levels 4 and 5 in early modern literature, this module will challenge you to read a range of Tudor and Jacobean plays in relation to political change, scandal, and satire. You will develop a specialised understanding of the relationship between literature and politics, and a detailed knowledge of the early modern period’s tumultuous social and religious contexts.

How will I learn on this module?

1 x weekly 1.5-hour lecture
1 x weekly 1.5-hour seminar

This module will be delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars. Each week, a 1.5-hour lecture will establish the critical and contextual framework for the text or texts under discussion, a framework which will be both reinforced and problematised in a 1.5-hour seminar. The seminar will provide you with the opportunity to explore the texts discursively through small-group exercises, presentations, and debate.

In addition to learning during contact hours with the module tutor, you will be expected to undertake both directed and independent learning. Directed learning generally will take the form of preparation for seminars where you will be expected to contribute to discussion. Informal presentations will be used as well as group work to facilitate student engagement.

Independent learning generally will take the form of further reading and investigation, the consolidation of seminar notes, and revision/preparation for the assessment of the module.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Lectures, seminars and associated tasks will develop your academic skills as you engage with primary, secondary, theoretical and contextual materials to enable you to attain the module learning outcomes, and, more importantly perhaps, to enjoy reading and thinking about early modern drama and early modern political drama. The module handbook provides details of lectures, seminars, reading lists and assessment criteria; lecture PowerPoint slides are made available on the e-learning portal. The module tutor will be available in lectures and seminars, as well as in office hours and on email to discuss any queries or concerns you have about how to excel academically on the module. Moreover, feedback on formative work and the first summative assessment will also serve as ‘feed forward’, giving guidance on how to improve during the module. In addition, you have a designated Guidance Tutor throughout the entire duration of your programme. The academic side of the Guidance Tutor’s role includes:
• monitoring your ongoing academic progress
• helping you to develop self-reflection skills necessary for continuous academic development
• directing you to further available services which can help them with their academic skills (e.g. Library’s Skills Plus)
You are advised to see your Guidance Tutor at least twice each semester to review your academic progress. The Guidance Booklet, which you receive at the start of your first year, includes structured materials designed to help you develop your self-reflection skills. These materials underpin the academic side of the regular Guidance meetings, helping you to learn how to best use the feedback you receive on your assignments, how to build on your strengths, and improve in the areas where you could perform better.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Christopher Marlowe, Dido Queen of Carthage
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, Gorboduc
Ben Jonson, Catiline
Ben Jonson, Sejanus his Fall
Thomas Middleton, A Game at Chess

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. A specialised understanding of early modern drama and a range of cultural contexts

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
2. an advanced ability to analyse Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, paying attention to thematic concerns and formal features.
3. a refined capacity to select primary and secondary materials and to deploy this evidence in discussing issues relevant to early modern drama.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
4. an improved awareness of early modern debates around issues of politics, religion, class, gender, nationality and sexuality, and the relevance of political critique to those debates
5. enhanced skills conforming to relevant standards of good academic conduct in the expression of an informed argument in written forms through completing the various activities prescribed.

How will I be assessed?


You will undertake one classroom presentation and complete a 1000 word essay plan (linked to the summative essay). The feedback from these assessments will enable you to plan ahead to the summative writing piece – providing guidance, direction, and suggestions for further reading.


You will complete one 3000 word essay at the end of the module, worth 100% of your final mark. The essay must be written on three texts from the set reading list (and one of which is taken from weeks 6-10). The essay will be written in response to one question, from a range provided by the module tutor, – including the option for you to construct your own question (in agreement with the module tutor).





Module abstract


Course info

UCAS Code Q320

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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