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Literature 5C: Political Shakespeare


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Literature 1A, 1B, 2 and 3 or 4, or equivalent.


In this course students will examine Shakespeare’s political drama. While all of Shakespeare’s plays can be said to address political issues, our focus will be on those plays which do so most systematically: the history plays and the Roman plays. We will study the following eight plays: Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Richard II, Henry VI Parts 1 and 2, Henry V. We will look especially at how Shakespeare used drama to explore issues such as the nature of monarchy and of a republic, the legitimacy of political power, the relation between domestic and foreign politics and the role of the individual within larger political structures. We will do so by analysing Shakespeare’s use of language, dramatic structure and genre conventions and by reading his political plays in the light of the cultural and historical contexts to which they responded and which they helped to shape in their turn.

Course objectives

By the end of the course students will have gained a good basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s political plays. They will be able to analyse the political themes which these plays explore, as well as their form and language and genre characteristics, and to relate them to their cultural and historical context. They will also have gained insight into the history of Shakespeare scholarship and will have further developed their academic writing skills.


The timetable is available on the BA English website

Mode of instruction

One two-hour seminar per week

Course Load

The course load of this course is 280 hours.

Lectures and seminars: 18
Reading material: 192
Essay: 40
Preparation for take-home exam: 30

Assessment method

Essay (40%)
Take-home exam (60%)


Essay (40%)
Take-home exam (60%)


Essay (40%)
Take-home exam (60%)

To pass the course, students should obtain at least a 6.0 for the essay.


There is no resit possibility for the take-home exam. If the final grade is insufficient, the essay can be retaken for 40% of the grade.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Attendance is compulsory. Missing more than two tutorials means that students will be excluded from the tutorials. Unauthorized absence also applies to being unprepared, not participating and/or not bringing the relevant course materials to class.


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

Jonathan Bate & Eric Rasmussen (eds.), The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. ISBN 9780230200951.

Students are required to purchase this edition of Shakespeare’s plays. No other editions are allowed.

Further reading material to be downloaded via the Leiden University Library online catalogue.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students other than from the BA English Language and Culture studies need permission from the coordinator of studies before enrolling.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof for questions.


Students are required to purchase the RSC edition of Shakespeare’s complete works. No other editions are allowed.

Students are expected to have read the first three acts of Titus Andronicus before the first seminar.