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Assessed Essay Titles 2006-07





Except where the question specifies a particular author, you may write about any of the dramatists studied.

1. In consultation with your seminar tutor, formulate a question which interests you and write an essay response to it about any ONE OR TWO plays by Shakespeare AND/OR his contemporaries. Your question should be agreed in writing by the beginning of Term 2, and you must hand the form below (signed by your tutor) into the Departmental Office by Friday 12th January 2007.

2. Write about some aspect of the relationship between source material and its dramatic transformation in any TWO OR MORE plays.

3. Good Quartos, Bad Quartos, Folios, A-Texts, B-Texts. Consider Shakespeare's and or Marlowe's variant texts as 'problem' AND/OR revision AND/OR instruction to performance.

4. ‘Editing can never be transparent – it is always influenced by the cultural assumptions of the editor and his or her era, however submerged those assumptions may be in terms of the editor’s stated textual practices.’ [Leah Marcus]. With close reference to specific textual decisions, show how one pre-twentieth-century edition of a play by Shakespeare or one of his contemporaries is influenced by the cultural assumptions of its editor and era.

5. Is placing the plays we study within clearly-described material historical contexts a necessary precondition for a discourse on how and what the plays mean to their various audiences? Demonstrate with reference to ONE OR TWO plays. 

6. 'We may challenge, perhaps in uncouth accents, the stories that Shakespeare is usually made to tell; we too may intervene among the contested scripts of our societies' (Alan Sinfield). What possibilities for intervention, challenge, and refashioning have been found in the critical AND/OR performance histories of Shakespeare's plays?

7. 'Marlowe's heroes give voice to the impulses that mark their location in history - the quest for novelty, the search for identity, the extortion of the market, the seizure of crowns, the pursuit of the flesh, the assertion of female dominion' (Mark Thornton Burnett).

Discuss any aspect of this statement with reference to one or more plays by Marlowe AND/OR Shakespeare AND/OR Jonson. (You need not, but may, confine your comments to the ‘impulses’ the quotation gives as examples.)

8. Orson Welles, between takes in filming Othello discusses 'the inequality of the sexes':

ORSON WELLES (playing Othello): 'Women have invented nothing, not even hats.'

MICHEAL MacLIAMMOIR (playing Iago): 'I demur. And point to comedy.'


9. 'There is a current tendency to see society as a structure of oppression and exploitation, and to read Shakespeare accordingly. We will get at part of the truth in that way, but only part ... He allows us to feel the excitement, even the longing, that the dream of a good order produces, for that too is part of our political life' (Alexander Leggatt). Discuss with reference to ONE OR TWO plays.

10. 'You taught me language, and my profit on't / Is I know how to curse' (Caliban, The Tempest); 'You speak a language I do not understand'' (Hermione, The Winter's Tale). To what extent does language function as a site of conflict and contest in any ONE OR TWO plays?

11. 'Shakespeare, for half of his literary career, lived in a polity that consisted of England, Wales and - contested - Ireland. The royal house was of Welsh provenance, and the Irish wars were the most pressing contemporary political conflict. For the remainder he wrote in the context of an enlarged state presided over by a Scottish king' (Willy Maley). How do Shakespeare's plays engage with questions of national identity? Alternatively, how has Shakespeare been used to intervene in such questions?

12. 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy' (Hamlet). Discuss the political, moral, humanist, or natural philosophy of ONE of the following and its impact on Shakespeare AND/OR Jonson AND/OR Marlowe AND/OR Middleton: Giordano Bruno, Cornelius Agrippa, Pythagoras, Galen, Machiavelli, Aristotle, Galileo, Erasmus, Sir Thomas More.

13. Revenge plays 'register a troubling discrepancy between the desire for equity and the means of fulfilling that desire' (Katharine Eisaman Maus). Discuss.

14. 'The meaning [that] is just on the far side of language ... is the meaning that Shakespeare succeeds in snaring' (Virginia Woolf). Discuss with close reference to ONE OR TWO plays.

15. 'O horror, horror, horror!/ Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!' (Macduff in Macbeth) Discuss how the early modern stage copes with the problems of conceiving, naming and expressing horror.

16. 'Now hang our bloody colours by Damascus,/ Reflexing hues of blood upon their heads' (Tamburlaine, 4.4.1-2). Discuss the uses of visual design on the early modern stage.

17. 'I do not know what ‘poetical’ is. Is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?' (Audrey in As You Like It). With close attention to TWO OR MORE plays, consider Shakespeare's investigation and treatment of the ‘poetical’.

18. Consider the uses of clowns, fools and fooling in Shakespeare AND/OR one of his contemporaries.

19. 'From the literature of the city…two opposing attitudes emerge - the city as a visionary embodiment of ideal community (either on earth or in heaven) or the city as a predatory trap founded in fratricide and shadowed by conflict' (Gail Kern Paster, The Idea of the City in the Age of Shakespeare). Discuss the city theatrically as setting and thematically as the bearer of cultural meanings in any ONE OR TWO plays.

20. What is the place of magic AND/OR the supernatural AND/OR the irrational in any ONE OR TWO plays of the period?

21. Discuss the dramatic use of ONE OR MORE of the following: graves; funerals; ghosts; suicide; corpses.

22. ‘The word “damnation” terrifies not me / For I confound hell in Elysium’ (Dr Faustus). To what uses does Marlowe OR Shakespeare OR Jonson put classical mythology?

23. How do TWO OR MORE comedies incorporate and understand violence?  

24. ‘Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one’ (Voltaire). How does Shakespeare explore doubt and certainty in TWO OR MORE plays?

25. ‘True manhood is a precious and elusive status beyond mere maleness […] Its vindication is doubtful, resting in rigid codes of decisive action in many spheres of life: as husband, father, lover, provider […] A restricted status, there are always men who fail the test’ (David Gilmore, Manhood in the Making).  How does the early modern theatre explore manhood? Consider ONE OR TWO plays.



Appendix: Question 1



Only for students choosing to answer essay question 1



Student’s Name:


University Number:




Title of the Essay:










Signed (student):




Signed (tutor):





This sheet MUST be handed into the English Departmental Office by Friday 12th January 2007.