Shakespeare: Comedies and Tragicomedies

An opportunity to study selected comedies and tragicomedies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

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Course outline

Beatrice and Benedick insulting each other; Malvolio in his yellow stockings; Prospero and his wild spirits; the statue that comes to life — these are some of the famous moments of passion and laughter that have made Shakespeare’s comedies famous. How were these plays put together? What concerns do they share, and how are those concerns varied from play to play? What has made them so famous?

In this course we will read and study selected comedies and tragicomedies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Works of Shakespeare will include examples of the romantic comedies of his first decade and a half as a playwright, of the so-called “problem plays”, the darker comedies of his middle years and of the tragicomedies of his final years, sometimes called “romances”.

We will also read some examples of comedies NOT by Shakespeare, to provide a contrast and sharpen our sense of what is peculiar to Shakespeare. The nature of comedy and its relationship to tragedy is also explored. A theatrical emphasis in the course is intended to help students respond to the plays as works for performance as well as literary texts.

Skills fostered include critical close reading, responsiveness to poetic and theatrical power, knowledge of dramatic modes and genres and of theatre history in English. Tutorial programme at Stage Three will include development of critical reading skills and consideration of traditions of competing critical argument.

Aims and Outcomes

By the end of this course students should:

1. Have an enhanced ability to read and understand early modern English verse and prose

2. Be aware of traditions of stage performance in early modern England

3. Be able to recognise and discuss some important features and changes in English society and culture across this period

4. Have familiarity with typical features and structures of early modern comedies

5. Have an improved ability to discuss and compare literature from this period using critical and scholarly resources

Terms & Conditions

This programme gives you the opportunity to attend regular lectures in a selection of courses, alongside enrolled students as an observer. Please note that you are not eligible to attend tutorials, take part in assessments, sit for exams and will not have access to course material online.

You will be provided with a course outline to keep you up to date with the topics discussed in class every week. This is a no-stress learning opportunity.


  • 12 weeks, Thursday and Friday (11am-12pm) 22 July - 22 October 2021
  • $295.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Tom Bishop & Sophie Tomlinson

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