nl en

Shakespeare's Sister: Gender Troubles in the Early Modern Period


Admission requirements

Students should have followed a Shakespeare course.


This course will give you the opportunity to meet Virginia Woolf’s most provocative creation, Shakespeare’s fictional sister, Judith, in the flesh. Critics have ploughed through archives to prove Woolf wrong: the cruelties of patriarchy did not succeed in smothering Judith. In our course we will have a closer and sometimes sceptical look at some of the issues that underlie the recent incorporation of female-authored texts in the literary canon. We will study a variety of prolific women writers such as Elizabeth Cary, Margaret Cavendish, and Aemilia Lanyer, whose works demonstrate that, as Diane Purkiss has adequately put it, female authors in the Renaissance were neither “Shakespeare in drag”, nor were they “as comprehensively silenced as Virginia Woolf’s tragic heroine”. Attention will be paid to the different genres in which the ‘otherness’ was cast, in a variety of both female-authored and male-authored texts, such as plays, closet drama, pamphlets, poetry, letters and the masque, which was in the early Renaissance the only medium that allowed female actors on stage. Various representations of gender and sexuality in the Renaissance will be discussed, exploring themes such as the nature of men and women, love, marriage, and even incest and witchcraft. Issues such as the embedding of sexuality in the poetic language of Donne and Herbert, changing attitudes towards marriage in ‘taming plays’ such as Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Fletcher’s sequel to it, The Tamer Tamed (c.1611), the stage practice of having female characters acted by boys, and the frequently used ploy of cross-dressing, will provide us with enough tantalizing material for discussion. Finally, different aspects of (revisionist) theory with regard to Renaissance drama will be introduced: such as for instance the feminist and postcolonial rewriting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Marina Warner’s novel Indigo (1992). The interplay with visual arts, such as Inigo Jones’s bare-breasted costume designs or the female letter writer in the paintings of Vermeer will also be explored. In short, the overall aim of this course is to give participants a sense of what ‘the state of the art’ is in Renaissance Studies.

Course objectives

  • to gain insight into the complex issues of literary canonization, and to explore the richness of male-authored as well as female-authored texts of the early modern period.

  • to explore gender issues in a broad variety of early modern texts (canonical as well as non-canonical).

  • to be able to discuss and write about these and related matters in a scholarly and authoritative manner.



Mode of instruction

Course load

Two-hour seminar per week.

Weekly reading: 120 hours in total
Seminars: 26 hours
Weekly assignments: 26 hours
First essay: 40 hours
Final essay: 68 hours
Total workload: 280 hours (10 EC = 280 hours)

Assessment method

The final mark is based on active class participation, short but weekly reading reports based on secondary reading material to enhance discussion of a primary text on the reading list (20%), a shorter essay of 2,500 words (30%), and a longer essay of 4,000 words (50%).


Blackboard will be used to provide students with additional information/reading material

Reading list

  • Sylvia Bowerbank & Sara Mendelsohn eds, Paper Bodies; A Margaret Cavendish Reader

  • Kirsten McDermott ed., Masques of Difference (Revels Student ed.).

  • John Fletcher, The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed (any available edition).

  • John Ford, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Marion Lomax ed., Oxford World’s Classics).

  • Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (New Mermaids).

  • William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew (preferred edition: Ann Thompson ed., New Cambridge)

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest (preferred edition: Stephen Orgel ed., Oxford World’s Classics) .

  • Marina Warner, Indigo, or, Mapping the Waters (Vintage, 1992).

  • Texts from Norton Anthology English Literature vol. I & II (NAEL I & II – see course schedule).

  • Further material to be downloaded from Early English Books Online (EEBO –see course schedule), JSTOR, or State Papers Online.


Students need to register in uSis for classes, exams and final papers.

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 information

For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher: Mrs. Dr. N.N.W. Akkerman

Administration Office: Van Wijkplaats
Coordinator of studies:


No remarks.