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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 American and British films from the period. 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 on the website


  • WEEK ONE: Howard Hawks, Bringing Up Baby & George Cukor, The Philadelphia Story

  • WEEK TWO: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

  • WEEK THREE: Billy Wilder, Love in the Afternoon & Stanley Donen, Funny Face

  • WEEK FOUR: William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • WEEK FIVE: Robert Hamer, Kind Hearts and Coronets & Alexander Mackendrick, The Ladykillers

  • WEEK SIX: William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

  • WEEK SEVEN: Preston Sturges, Sullivan’s Travels & Ernest Lubitsch, To Be Or Not To Be

  • WEEK EIGHT: William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

  • WEEK NINE: Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters & Melinda and Melinda

  • WEEK TEN: William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

  • WEEK ELEVEN: Frank Capra, It’s A Wonderful Life & Billy Wilder, The Apartment

  • WEEK TWELVE: William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Research

Course Load

The course load of this course is 280 hours. This covers 36 contact hours, preparation, and research and writing for your essays.

Assessment method

Two essays of 2500-3000 words (50% each); or, one longer essay on a comparative subject (dealing with at least two texts featured on the syllabus) of 5000-6000 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 / resit essays will be graded, but will not receive any comments.

Resit essays can be submitted in the resit period. 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 for:

  • information

  • communication

  • submission of essays to turnitin to check for plagiarism

Reading list

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (ed. Peter Holland) (Arden)
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (ed. Jay L. Halio) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (ed. Sheldon P. Zitner) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (ed. Keir Elam) (Arden)
William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (ed. N. W. Bawcutt) (Oxford)
William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (ed. John Pitcher) (Arden)


Enrolment through uSis for classes, exams and final paper for classes, exams and final papers is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

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: Jurjen Donkers

Contact details

For questions concerning the course content or blackboard module contact the instructor of the course: Michael Newton

Literary Studies departmental office

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA


Please make sure that you have seen the required films before the first class.