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Renaissance Comedy: Shakespeare and Jonson

Module information>

Academic Direction
Goldsmiths, University of London
Also part of
BA English
Modes of Study

This course provides students with an introduction to the works of Shakespeare and Jonson within the genre of ‘comedy’, and seeks to draw attention to the principles of classification which enable these plays to be seen as forming a group.

Starting with the hypothesis that the plays themselves may problematize such formulations, the course will examine the cultural specificity of the term ‘comedy’, and the extent to which these plays are part of a process which redefined the role of drama in Elizabethan/Jacobean society. The plays will be treated primarily as literary texts but students will be encouraged to consider the possibilities for interpretation which a ‘stage-centred’ critical approach produces.

The plays will be placed in the context of a new dramatic practice which arose within a London of competing commercial and political interests, and students will be required to grasp an overview of the forces shaping the creative production of Shakespeare and Jonson. The demands of the market for which the dramatists were producing, the operation of patronage, the expectations of theatre audiences, and the role of censorship will be considered, and the course will attempt to read through the plays to find the ‘marks’ of these influences.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should:

  • have read the comic dramatic writings of Shakespeare and Jonson.
  • have an understanding of the creative context in which the texts have their origin, namely the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, and the social context in which it operated.
  • have some understanding of critical developments in the field.
  • know and be able to apply the terminology associated with the period.
  • be able to develop your own critical approaches to the plays.

Essential reading


  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • As You Like It
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Twelfth Night


  • Bartholomew Fair
  • Volpone
  • The Alchemist
  • Every Man in his Humour
  • Eastward Ho!
  • Epicoene; or The Silent Woman