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The Comic Spirit: Shakespeare’s Comedies and Classic Hollywood Comedy


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree and an interest in Shakespeare and in film.


We will explore the meanings and possibilities of the comic mode through close analysis of Shakespeare’s comedies and ‘tragi-comedies’ in relation to classic Hollywood films from the period, 1930-1960. We shall consider these works of art through formalist analysis, the techniques of close reading, and through their cultural and historical context. We will be alert to many issues, including gender, politics, and discourses of love and romance.

Course objectives

  • Course objective 1
    This course will extend and deepen the power of students’ critical analysis through in-depth consideration of texts.

  • Course objective 2
    Students will explore critical debates surrounding Hitchock’s films.

  • Course objective 3
    The course will aim to provide for literature students the critical skills necessary for the analysis of visual texts. This will involve an understanding of: basic film theory; the uses of the frame and editing; the place of the ‘star’; the nature of genre; and the ‘auteur theory’.

  • Course objective 4
    Regarding both literary and cinematic art works, it will also aim to extend the students’ skills in the reading of narrative and the understanding of the relationship of a text to its cultural/social context.

  • Course objective 5
    Students will be encouraged to share analytical and critical views on the texts ascribed in class discussion, perhaps including short presentations, and will focus research skills in the writing of a final research paper.

  • Course objective 6
    In their papers, the students will show that they have developed the relevant skills for researching and writing on film.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website

Week One: William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost.
Week Two: Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby.
Week Three: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing.
Week Four: Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot.
Week Five: William Shakespeare, As You Like It.
Week Six: Alexander Mackendrick, The Sweet Smell Of Success.
Week Seven: William Shakespeare, The Merchant Of Venice.
Week Eight: Billy Wilder, Love In The Afternoon.
Week Nine: William Shakespeare, Cymbeline.
Week Ten: Frank Capra, It’s A Wonderful Life.
Week Eleven: William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Research

Course Load

The course load of this course is 280 hours.

Assessment method

Two essays of 2000-2500 words (50% each); or, one longer essay on a comparative subject (dealing with at least two texts featured on the syllabus) of 4000-5000 words (100%). Both essays must contain a significant element of research.
All essays will be expected on a date (to be announced) during the exam period. Late essays will be graded, but will not receive any comments.

Resit essays can be submitted on or by 26 January. In exceptional circumstances, with the agreement of the tutor and the Study Co-ordinator, essays may also be submitted after that date.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course.

Reading list

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost (ed. Henry Woudhuysen) (Arden Third Series)
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (ed. Sheldon P. Zitner) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, As You Like It (ed. Alan Brissenden) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (ed. Jay L. Halio) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, Cymbeline (ed. Roger Warren) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (ed. John Pitcher) (Arden) (for preference, and IF AVAILABLE) – otherwise, the edition prepared by Stephen Orgel for Oxford is the best alternative.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 527 2251/2101 or mail:

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: Ms S.J. de Kok, MA.

Contact details

Literary Studies student administration Van Wijkplaats 3, room 002. Tel. 071 527 2251 or mail

Coordinator of studies: Ms S.J. de Kok, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.


For the first class, you must have read in advance William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost.