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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.


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Mode of instruction

One two-hour seminar per week

Assessment method


  • Essay

  • Take-home exam


  • Essay (40%)

  • Take-home exam (60%)

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

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.


If the final grade is insufficient, students can revise and resubmit their essay and/or retake the take-home exam.

Inspection and feedback

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.

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 on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Please contact Student administration Arsenaal or the coordinator of studies 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.

Disclaimer: Please note that the course descriptions, in particular the assessment method, might be adjusted (timely) depending on the measures taken regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.