Spring 2023 - ENGL 310 E100

Early Modern Words and Worlds (4)


Class Number: 4296

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    WMC 2200, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    30 units or two 200-division English courses.



Study of poetry, prose, and multimedia from the Early Modern period (c. 1500 – 1700). Topics may include Renaissance humanism, responses to the Reformation, the rise of print culture, period-specific shapes of gender, individual author studies, and other key topics. This course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught.


"Paranoia and Puppet masters": Early Modern political drama 

O happy thee that never saw the court” – John Webster

Many early modern dramatists had a deep interest in political themes and ideas, especially power, tyranny, court domination, and autocracy, an interest they linked to their other interest, grotesque violence. They approached politics as dramatists, but they took from Roman historians -- especially Tacitus, translated into English in precisely this era -- a vision of the court as a spider web of manipulation, corruption and deceit.

We will read parts of Tacitus's Annals (supplied by me; see below) with its vivid presentation of court viciousness, and its exposure of the workings of state power and puppet masters, hidden motives, violence, and the resultant paranoia. A short selection from Tacitus will set the stage, and then we will turn to Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. Like Tacitus, these dramatists present an Orwellian world full of ducal and princely corruption, dominated by surveillance and ruthlessness.

Photocopies of the Tacitus and important articles on the early modern court will be provided by me (probably no more than ten dollars in total) or posted. I will use Canvas Announcements for important updates, but the course will be in person. The course syllabus will tell you what to read and so will I, in class. Please acquire the books online or from a local bookstore. The Spanish Tragedy will be our first text.


  • Attendance and participation 20%
  • Midterm paper, 6-7 pages 30%
  • End of term paper, 6-7 pages 30%
  • short group presentation 20%



Katherine Maus, ed. Four Revenge Tragedies. You may use any edition of this work, including an e-book edition. 
ISBN: 9780199540532

Hamlet, Shakespeare. Thompson and Taylor, eds. Bloomsbury Arden. Please acquire this edition (physical copy or e-book). 
ISBN: 9781472518385

The Duchess of Malfi, Webster. Leah Marcus, ed. Bloomsbury Arden. (Any edition of this, including e-book.)
ISBN: 9781904271512


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

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 website 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