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Shakespeare: text and performance

This intensive study of ten Shakespeare plays and the Sonnets takes close account of the social and political circumstances in which they were written and performed. This broad historicist approach is complemented by a strong emphasis on the diversity of twentieth-century critical responses to the plays and on modern productions of them, both on stage and on screen. The module will develop your knowledge of the range and variety of Shakespeare’s dramatic and poetic work; examine how its reception and status has been shaped by cultural and institutional factors; and explore themes such as questions of genre, politics, sexuality and gender.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

The module enables you to develop a critical understanding of performance issues, appropriate to OU level 3. It is in two parts: the Part 1 module book, Shakespeare: Texts and Contexts, is designed to be read in conjunction with nine plays that together demonstrate the range and variety of Shakespeare’s dramatic work. The module moves broadly from the Elizabethan to the Jacobean phases of Shakespeare’s career: you will study A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, King Lear and The Tempest. You will study detailed readings of the individual plays, exploring questions of genre and also considering how particular performances of the plays have influenced critical opinion and interpretation. The first twenty weeks of study are designed to promote a confident grasp of Shakespeare’s language, and to develop skills in reading and interpretation.

The Part 2 module book, Shakespeare 1609: Cymbeline and the Sonnets, broadens the critical perspectives of the module by introducing two texts, Cymbeline and the Sonnets, which are often neglected in the study of Shakespeare’s work. We consider how the status and reception of the two texts have been shaped by cultural and institutional factors. You will also develop your understanding of some of the key issues introduced in Part 1: Shakespeare’s use of different genres and histories, and his representation of political conflict, sexuality and gender. A collection of primary and secondary readings included in A Shakespeare Reader: Sources and Criticism accompanies the module, helping you to develop an understanding of the competing critical and theoretical interpretations of the Shakespeare texts. In Part 2, you will orientate your own views on Shakespeare in relation to the critical tradition, and develop further skills of close reading, historical contextualisation and comparative analysis.

Accompanying the printed teaching material is a collection of performance-related DVDs and audio CDs. As well as full-length recordings of selected plays, there are many illuminating interviews with notable practitioners, including Sir John Gielgud, Fiona Shaw and Jonathan Miller. All this material is concerned with showing how an informed understanding of performance issues can deepen and enhance your response to the plays.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper. The examination can only be submitted on paper.

The last TMA is of double length. 

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU. 

Our module Reading and studying literature (A230) is highly recommended as preparation. It is a wide-ranging introduction to literary texts and how they are studied, essential if you have little or no experience of literary criticism. AA306 builds on Part 1 (Chapters 1 and 2) of A230.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

It is essential to read as many of the plays as you can before the module begins. You should also take opportunities to listen to audio recordings and to watch productions of Shakespeare’s plays, either on screen or in the theatre.


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 £2632.00

Registration closes 18/09/14 (places subject to availability)


The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

October 2014 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 16/09/2014.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, DVDs, audio CDs, website.

You will need

Television, DVD player, audio CD player. If you are using video versions of ‘King Lear’ and/or Polanski’s ‘Macbeth’ then you will also need a video player.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Shakespeare, William Norton Shakespeare Norton £40.00 - ISBN 9780393929911 Students may study from either the hardback or paperback (ISBN 9780393111354 £33.99) edition of this set book, whichever they prefer.

Other materials

  • William Shakespeare Twelfth Night DVD (1988, Richard Briers) £4.99 Students can use either this or the 1996 (Helena Bonham-Carter) version. This DVD is available from internet retailers by searching on or high street retailers.
  • Shakespeare Macbeth DVD (1971, Roman Polanski) £19.99 This DVD is available at a discount from internet retailers by searching on or high street retailers.
  • Shakespeare, William Hamlet DVD (1991, Mel Gibson, Glen Close) £12.99 This DVD is available from internet retailers by searching on or high street retailers.
  • Shakespeare Grigori Kozintsev's King Lear DVD Lenfilm £9.99

If you have a disability

This module includes considerable study of a lot of print and audio and visual material. If required alternative assignment questions can be provided when extensive audio-visual analysis is required. The printed study materials are available on audio in DAISY Digital Talking Book format or in comb-bound format. The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Some PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and scientific, mathematical, foreign language, musical or graphic materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Written transcripts are available of the audio-visual material.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.