BA Drama and English Literature

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Revenge Tragedy: Wild Justice on the English Renaissance Stage

Unit code ENGL31762
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


The course investigates the explosive genre of revenge tragedy, examining the violent and transgressive plays about revenge which were among the most popular on the English Renaissance stage. The revengers are usually in pursuit of corrupt figures of authority, and the plays are compellingly political. The course will discuss the politics of the plays alongside their explorations of madness and their subversive and controversial depictions of gender, sexuality and desire. It will also illuminate the ways in which the tragedies engage with changing contemporary concepts of marriage, the family and the state. The course will conclude with a discussion of recent film versions of early modern revenge tragedies.


  • to introduce students to the genre of revenge tragedy on the English Renaissance stage and to chart the development of the genre in the era
  • to examine the politically-charged nature of the tragedies alongside their treatment of themes including violence, gender, sexuality and madness
  • to equip students to discuss revenge tragedies in relation to each other and in relation to their historical and cultural contexts  
  • to familiarize students with critical debates about revenge tragedy  
  • to encourage oral presentation skills through the use of student presentations and seminar discussions
  • to develop skills in written expression and the presentation of a coherent argument at a level appropriate to final degree work

Knowledge and understanding

  • demonstrate an understanding of the genre of revenge tragedy in the period
  • discuss revenge tragedies in detail in relation to their generic context as well as in relation to wider social and cultural contexts

Intellectual skills

  • understand and analyze a range of early modern plays
  • engage critically with secondary material and critical debates

Practical skills

  • identify and locate relevant primary and secondary material
  • present written work in an appropriate form
  • deliver a coherent oral presentation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • present a coherent written argument
  • put forward independent ideas in group discussions and in oral presentations

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Close reading exercise: commentaries on 3 extracts from plays studied in weeks 1-6 40%
Essay 60%


Feedback methods

  • Oral and written feedback on student presentation
  • Oral and written feedback on close reading exercise
  • Oral and written feedback on coursework essay
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Readings for 2018-19 may include:

Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy

Shakespeare, Hamlet

Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy

Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

Webster, The White Devil

Middleton, Women Beware Women

Middleton and Rowley, The Changeling

Ford, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 166

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Naomi Baker Unit coordinator

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