MA Courses


This page contains extra information on the MA courses I teach. It is intended to help students to decide what courses to choose and to let them know about preparatory reading. The official description of modules is found on OCASYS. I may change or update the information given below. Once teaching begins, the information on these pages becomes obsolete since the full details will appear on Nestor.

Last update: 24 March 2019

See Buying Books.

For general advice on MA dissertations.

OCASYS entries for my current and future courses.


‘Something Wicked this Way Comes’: Order and Conflict in Renaissance England

LAP96021355-13FEBRUARY1996-BEVERLY HILLS,CALIFORNIA,USA: Ian McKellen stars as Richard, a charismatic malcontent and England's most ruthless monarch in United Artists' unique version of Shakespeare's compellig tale of power and political intrigue "Richard III." (File/UPI)
Ian McKellen as Shakespeare’s Richard III

This seven-week, 5ECTS course will look at the role of conflict in Renaissance literature. It will include the following  texts:

  • William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard III
  • Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and The Jew of Malta
  • John Webster’s, The Duchess of Malfi

Aspects of conflict that will be discussed include:

  • military conflict, specifically civil war (Edward II, Richard III, Macbeth);
  • social conflicts. This is potentially a big category but the focus will be on gender (e.g. the representations of women as witches in Macbeth and the female monsters) and on deviant sexuality (Edward II, Duchess of Malfi);
  • inter-religious conflict, dealing with the relationship between Christianity to Judaism and Islam (The Jew of Malta).

Teaching and Assessment

The course will be taught in seven weeks in three-hour seminars. It will be assessed by a written discussion paper that will be delivered in one of the seminars and a final essay written in the examination period after the seminars are over.

Course Texts to Acquire

  • William Shakespeare, Richard III. Ed. Richard Cartelli. Norton Critical Editions. (W.W. Norton & Co., 2008)  978-0-393-92959-1.
  • William Shakespeare, Macbeth. 2nd ed. Ed. Robert S. Miola. Norton Critical Editions. (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013)  9780393923261.
  • The plays of Christopher Marlowe in any academic edition, e.g. in The Complete Plays. Ed. R. Lindsey and T. Romey. Penguin Classics. (Penguin, 2003) 978-0140436334. If you are happy to read a play on-screen, this is available through the university’s subscription to Literature Online (LION).
  • Stephen Greenblatt et al. eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Part B. 9th edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2012.) Note that RUG undergrads may already have this book. If you are unfamiliar with the different formats of this anthology see the further information at

It is important that you buy the Norton Critical Editions of the Shakespeare plays as we will be using some of the essays/background information that comes in them.

UK - King Richard III Discovery
The bones of Richard III were found under a car-park in Leicester in 2013. This event prompted a lot of media discussion of whether Richard was really a wicked king or whether he was the victim of bad PR (including Shakespeare’s play).

Advance Reading

Read the plays listed above. If you haven’t read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice before, it would be a good idea to do so.

It would be useful to watch some of the following. They are not all straightforward films of the plays so they are no substitute for reading the texts:

  • Richard Loncraine (dir.), Richard (1995). Set in a fascist England and starring Sir Ian McKellen.
  • Roman Polanski (dir.), Macbeth (1971). Thought to have been influenced by the murder of Polanski’s wife.
  • Derek Jarman (dir.), Edward II (1991).
  • Dominic Dromgoole (dir.) The Duchess of Malfi (Shakespeare’s Globe, 2014).


These links are to internet material which will help you prepare for the course and give you an idea of the kind of things it deals with:


The Digital Text: The Book Past and Future

I am teaching the first seven weeks. Weeks 8-10 are reading and assessment weeks. After this, another staff member teaches the second part of the course. This section only deals with weeks 1-7.

The complete course (14 weeks) is a 10 ECTS one. This course can be taken by students on the MA in English Literature or the WEM MA.


When people think of literature they often focus on the author’s decision to write sometimes acknowledging the importance of there being a market of readers. The first part of the course deals with ‘book history’, a fairly new field in literary study that examines the sociology of the book. This approach doesn’t marginalise authors and readers, but it also looks at other factors that influence book production such as technological change, format (book, periodical, website), copyright and censorship.

Here are some specific things that we will look at:

At key moments in human history new technologies fundamentally affected the circulation of literature. The transmission from oral to written texts is an example of this; however, this course focuses on the impact of print and the parallels that this had with the rise of electronic texts in our time.

Once censorship is mentioned it seems obvious how this affects the production of books. However, the history of censorship embraces everything from book burning to library acquisitions (a particularly vexed question in the US). The internet seemed to offer possibilities to circumvent censorship laws but it may well have replaced active repression with de facto suppression of texts by search engines and commercial interests.

People have strong feelings about copyright. For some it is a bridle on freedom while for others it gives authors the freedom to write. Any form of regulation influences literary output, for example, novelists have rewritten parts of their works to bring them under the protection of copyright laws. The internet may make all of this redundant and various suggestions have been advanced regarding the future of copyright in a digital world.

Note that the history of the book usually incorporates questions about bibliography and textual editions. However, these will not be dealt with here as they appear in WEM3.


You should purchase David Finkelstein and Alasdair McCreely eds, The Book History Reader. 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2006). The course will also employ readings that are available to RUG students in library databases.

Course Textbook


There will be a written assignment during the taught weeks and a 2,500 word essay in the assessment weeks. Together these will be worth 50% of the total assessment for the whole course.