MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Shakespeare: Theory and the Archive

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL60492
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Much of the most interesting scholarship in Shakespeare and early modern studies in recent years has combined the theoretical developments in literary studies of previous decades with a return to the archive. This has been accompanied by theoretical enquiries into the nature of the archive, prompted by the social and technological transformations of our time. This course will explore the relation between theory and the archive in relation to a writer whose iconic status both shapes and is shaped by the archive: William Shakespeare. Students will be encouraged to explore, on the one hand, how different theoretical approaches can help to frame, guide, and enhance our researches in the archive and, on the other, how archival sources can expand and challenge existing theories. Drawing on the unique archival holdings in Manchester, notably at the Rylands (where some of the sessions will be hosted), and on theorists such as Derrida, Foucault, Ricoeur, Haraway, Ahmed, McGann, Bourdieu, Said, Bhabha, Genette, and Barthes, we will consider recent critical questions and debates from a range of theoretical as well as archival perspectives.



The unit aims:

  • to generate new readings of Shakespeare by combining archival and theoretical approaches to his works
  • to consider different theoretical and critical perspectives on a range of issues relating to Shakespeare’s works
  • to study a range of literary and non-literary archival sources from the early modern period, both in manuscript and in print, and evaluate their connection with Shakespeare’s works
  • to examine a range of plays by Shakespeare and their reception
  • to explore theoretical perspectives on the archive and the ways in which it has shaped, and continues to shape, our understanding of Shakespeare’s works


Teaching and learning methods


Knowledge and understanding

  • demonstrate thorough knowledge of Shakespeare’s works
  • demonstrate familiarity with a range of theoretical and critical approaches to Shakespeare
  • demonstrate knowledge of a variety of non-Shakespearean early modern texts, both in manuscript and print, and of the literary, intellectual, and social contexts of Shakespeare’s works
  • demonstrate a knowledge of some of the later contexts in which Shakespeare’s works were edited, performed, and received
  • demonstrate an understanding of some of the theoretical and practical questions relating to archives

Intellectual skills

  • Analyse literary and non-literary texts, and to construct and elaborate complex arguments through textual evidence, both in writing and in seminar discussions
  • Use relevant library resources, databases and search engines, to locate material for discussion and for assessment purposes
  • Identify, interpret, and contextualise primary archival sources, either in manuscript or in print
  • Demonstrate enhanced skills of written and verbal communication, analysis, and argument

Practical skills

  • good oral communication skills
  • good written communication skills
  • good research skills
  • good critical thinking skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • good oral communication skills
  • good written communication skills
  • good research skills
  • good critical thinking skills

Assessment methods

Essay 100%


Feedback methods

  • written feedback on (formative) presentation
  • written feedback on critical review and essay
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during office hours or by appointment)


Recommended reading

Indicative Reading:

  1. Juliet Fleming, 'The French Garden: An Introduction to Women's French', English Literary History, 56 (1989), 19-51
  2. Sarah Lewis, 'Shakespeare, Time and Theory', Literature Compass, 11.4 (2014), 246-57
  3. Julia Reinhard Lupton 'Hospitality and Risk in The Winter's Tale', in Thinking with Shakespeare (2011)
  4. Jonathan Sawday, '"Forms Such as Never Were in Nature": the Renaissance Cyborg', in At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies, and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period, ed. by Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert and Susan Wiseman (New York: St Martin's Press, 1999)
  5. Stallybrass, Chartier, Mowery and Wolfe, 'Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England', Shakespeare Quarterly, 55 (2004), 379-419
  6. Kathryn Vomero Santos, ‘Hosting Language: Immigration and Translation in The Merry Wives of Windsor’, in Shakespeare and Immigration, ed. by Ruben Espinosa and David Ruiter (2014), pp. 59-72
  7. Deborah Wills, 'The Gnawing Vulture: Revenge, Trauma Theory and Titus Andronicus', Shakespeare Quarterly, 53 (2002), 21-52

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Naomi Baker Unit coordinator

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