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Topics in Renaissance Literature I

Shakespeare, Genre, and Religion

Statue at desk writing

In 1558, Elizabeth I inherited the throne of an England that had been Catholic for five years under Mary I. Prior to this, England had been Protestant for six years under Edward VI. Therefore, at the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth instituted an Act of Uniformity designed to settle religious tensions. It required subjects to acknowledge her royal supremacy over the Church, and to attend church services every Sunday and on all holy days. These services were required to follow the script of the Book of Common Prayer, whose Church of England liturgy replaced Roman Catholic worship. The Bishops’ Bible (1568) was a carefully revised English translation of the bible which was read in churches (although a more polemical English translation, known as the Geneva Bible (1560), was also widely disseminated across England). Under Elizabeth and her successor, James I, the religion of the Church of England was putatively stable. Yet, internal disputes continued to abound.

This course examines the relationship between religion and the professional theatre in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. We will consider questions including: To what extent did England’s religious turns affect the beliefs of the people? Was the religion of the English population in the reigns of Elizabeth and James predominantly Catholic or reformed? How did religion shape the public reception of the theatre? We will look at where Shakespeare’s plays engage with religious discourse, and explore how the genre of the play (comedy, history, tragedy) impacts Shakespeare’s use of religion and religious energy.


  • Twelfth Night
  • Winter’s Tale
  • Richard II
  • Henry V
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth


  • 2 short essays (2 x 20%)
  • Group annotated bibliography (10%)
  • Research paper proposal (5%)
  • Research paper (35%)
  • Oral presentation (10%)

**Assessments subject to change**


  • ENGL 200
  • ENGL 290

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153


Telephone (613) 533-6000 ext. 74446 extension 74446


Telephone (613) 533-6000 ext. 74447 extension 74447

Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.