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Shakespeare (MA)

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Course overview

The principal aim of this course is to study the full range of Shakespeare’s dramatic and poetic works more closely and comprehensively than is possible at undergraduate level, while also allowing you to focus in depth on a single major play.  

A distinctive feature of the course is its close engagement with the works themselves and with what they say now about our world as well as what they reveal about Shakespeare’s.The critical, historical and theoretical issues raised by his plays and poetry are allowed to emerge out of your direct encounter with them, rather than being prescribed in advance as avenues of approach.

The MA is designed to provide you with both breadth of coverage and depth of focus, and the course is ideal whether you wish to pursue research at PhD level or simply wish to develop your knowledge of Shakespeare and your critical skills.

Key facts

Key facts about the course
Qualification Master of Arts
Duration 1 year full-time
Department and Faculty English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Partner institution(s) --
Course director Prof. Kiernan Ryan
+44 (0)1784 443224
Contact for more information Lisa Dacunha

Postgraduate Faculty Administrator
+44 (0)1784 443215

Fees / funding

Please visit the Fees and funding pages for the latest information about tuition fees and the different sources of funding which may be available to you.

How to apply

Applications for entry to all our full-time postgraduate degrees can be made online.

Further information on making an application, including the documentation that you will need to submit with the application is available in the How to apply section of this site.

If you are interested in applying to Royal Holloway, why not arrange a visit to our campus to see for yourself what academic and student life is like here. More information on arranging visits is available on our Open days pages.


Entry requirements

Entry criteria:

UK Upper Second Class Honours degree (2:1) or equivalent, although candidates with a high Lower Second Class Honours degree (2:2) may also be considered.

Candidates with professional qualifications and work experience in an associated area may be considered.

English language requirements:

IELTS 7 with 7 in writing, TOEFL (iBT) 100 with 26 in writing, or equivalent, for non-native English speaking applicants.

Applicants come from a diverse range of backgrounds and we accept a broad range of qualifications.

Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

Additional requirements:

  • You will be required to submit two short essays, or one longer essay, either on a Shakespearean topic or on any literary topic that demonstrates your critical ability and essay-writing skills.

A successful applicant will usually have the following qualities:

  • excellent oral and written command of the English language
  • enthusiasm for studying Shakespeare and experience of studying his works at an advanced level
  • keenness to contribute actively and productively to class discussion
  • ability to work independently on essays and dissertation.

Why choose this course?

  • The MA Shakespeare is unique in its detailed engagement with the full range of Shakespeare’s works.
  • All members of staff are actively engaged in major research projects: the Department was awarded a 4* rating in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This commitment to scholarly research means all our postgraduate courses are informed by the latest developments in literary studies.
  • Our excellent library resources span the full range of English studies and you will also have access to the University of London Library at Senate House as well as the British Library and the many specialist libraries located in central London.

Department research and industry highlights

In the most recent RAE (2008), 90% of the work submitted by the Department was judged to be of international standard with 30% assessed as world-leading (4*), 35% as internationally excellent (3*) and 25% as internationally recognised (2*). The Department’s performance, in terms of 4* and 3* results, was ranked 11th equal. Overall, the Department was ranked one of the top three English Departments in London.

We have particular strengths in the following research areas:

  • Medieval Studies
  • Shakespeare and the Renaissance
  • 17th and 18th Century Literature and Culture
  • 19th Century Literature
  • 20th Century Literature and Theory
  • Postcolonialism
  • Creative Writing and Practice-based Research.

Course content and structure

You will study the two core course units and complete a dissertation under the supervision of one of the course tutors.

Core course units:

The Works: Plays & Poetry
This unit spans Shakespeare’s entire career as a dramatist and poet. You will explore in detail, through close reading and class discussion, every kind of play he wrote and his greatest poetry, engaging throughout with the most important recent critical accounts of them. After focusing on the romantic comedies, the key history plays and the Sonnets, you will go on to explore the problem plays, the major tragedies and the haunting romances Shakespeare wrote at the end of his career.

King Lear: Critical Debate & Creative Response
This is an intensive study of Shakespeare’s supreme tragic masterpiece, the critical controversies it has provoked, and the diverse ways in which it has been adapted and transformed since Shakespeare’s time, on stage and on screen as well as in later fiction, poetry and drama.

The dissertation (12,000—15,000 words) is designed to test your ability to handle a complex topic and to display research skills at greater length than the course essays allow. It may develop work done for any part of either course unit, or be on any Shakespearean topic approved by your dissertation supervisor.

On completion of the course graduates will have:

  • a detailed, critical understanding of a wide range of works written by Shakespeare
  • an advanced understanding of the critical controversies produced by King Lear from the eighteenth century to the present day; and its creative afterlife in fiction, poetry, drama and film
  • evaluated relevant critical, theoretical and contextual research at the forefront of Shakespeare studies
  • experience of independent literary research at an advanced level using traditional and electronic resources
  • confidence in deploying the appropriate critical and technological skills required in this field of study.

View the full course specification for Shakespeare (MA) in the Programme Specification Repository


Assessment is carried out by essays and a dissertation.

Employability & career opportunities

The Department has an impressive record for placing graduates in academic jobs and in prominent positions outside academia. In the field of Shakespeare and Renaissance studies alone, our postgraduates have recently secured positions at the Universities of Edinburgh, Sussex and Leeds, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the National University of Ireland. The English Department also prepares postgraduates for successful careers in a variety of other areas, such as teaching, writing and journalism, administration and marketing.


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