Spring 2019 - ENGL 407W D100

Topics in Early English Drama (4)

Class Number: 1609

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 8:30 AM – 10:20 AM
    AQ 2120, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 12, 2019
    8:30 AM – 11:30 AM
    AQ 3005, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    One of ENGL 304, 306, 310, 311, 313, or 315.



The study of selected dramatic works written in English prior to the Reformation. May be organized by author, genre, or critical approach. Does not include Shakespeare. Reserved for English honors, major, joint major and minor students. Students with credit for ENGL 407 may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


“The Ancient Grudge”: Early Modern Revenge

We will study three excellent Elizabethan / Jacobean plays in which vengeance or revenge has a key role. Beyond the idea that revenge plays require a wronged protagonist, as well as impediments to justice, these plays raised important ethical questions about vengeance, retribution, justice, violence, and forgiveness. In order to appreciate early modern revenge drama, we will begin at the “beginning”, namely with the short Norse play The Revenge of Amleth (from The Norse Hamlet). This play, and Hamlet, will be our background material, used to situate the tradition. We will then turn to three great Early Modern plays: The Spanish Tragedy, The Revenger's Tragedy, and The Duchess of Malfi. As we are starting with the first great Elizabethan revenge play (The Spanish Tragedy), we will see just how much the genre changes and develops, until it reaches its magnificent dissolution in The Duchess of Malfi

We will pose a number of questions about revenge and the revenge tragedy genre: why did the archaic or classical idea of noble anger motivating revenge die out? Because we are less violent now, or because revenge itself became linked to lawlessness and thus suspect? Why is the idea of centralized legality – in the form of the state, Church or monarchy – challenged so repeatedly in this genre? Because the state, Church or monarchy was corrupt? How can cycles of revenge, and the reactive motives that spur it on, be stopped? What is the connection between rage and revenge? Above all else, we will ask: can revenge and justice even be prised apart? 

--We may screen a film or two.
--I will supply a photocopy (at cost) of key articles.
--Feel free to read any of these plays before the semester begins, though this is not necessary.
--You may use other editions of the Early Modern plays, in a pinch, but keep in mind that these paperback editions were chosen for their excellence and I recommend that you use them. 



The goal is to grasp the nuances -- literary and philosophical -- of these plays, as well as to become familiar with important discussions about revenge, vengeance and justice. No philosophical or theatre history background is presupposed. Do not be intimidated by these texts, either content-wise or in terms of language. They are readable and fascinating. And, at times, even hauntingly beautiful. 

The course is a W (writing) course. You will be required to write two academic essays -- one due at mid term and one due at the end of the semester -- using several secondary sources for each and marshalling evidence carefully. Prior to writing each of these, you will submit a thesis and outline which I will read and you will revise.

I will discuss the requirements in detail when we meet.






Regular, enthusiastic participation:  10%

First essay thesis and outline submission with revision: 5%

First essay (5-7 pages), due midterm: 40%

Second essay thesis and outline submission with revision: 5%

Final essay (5-7 pages), due end of term: 40%




Hamlet, Shakespeare (Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare), ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, rev. ed. 2016.
ISBN: 978-1472518385

The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster (ed. John Russell, Brown, Revels plays, 2nd edition, Manchester University Press)
ISBN: 0719075181

Four Revenge Tragedies (ed. Katharine Maus, Oxford University Press)
ISBN: 0199540535

The Norse Hamlet (Sources of Shakespeare), Hythloday Press, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0615878911

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html