Back to: English and Theatre Studies major English and Theatre Studies major

English and Theatre Studies is a combined program, which means you can specialise in either area. The program offers studies in imaginative writing and dramatic performance. It focuses on their forms and traditions, and on the myriad ways they engage with the everyday world.

The program offers subjects in a wide range of fields, from the Medieval to Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism, and beyond. This includes British, Australian, American and postcolonial writing and theatre, and literary, cultural and performance theory.

English and Theatre at Melbourne University is recognised nationally and internationally for its innovative teaching, scholarship and research.


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Subjects you could take in this major

  • This subject introduces students to a variety of literary and performance texts, focusing on distinct but interconnected ways of understanding the two forms. It will study different historical periods and different genres to investigate how textuality and performativity develop and reflect different ways of thinking about identity. Working at the intersections of text, performance and culture, we will examine changing models of self representation from the early modern period to the late 19th century. Shakespearean tragedy develops highly influential modern forms of subjectivity, which see the individual emerge from social distinctions of status and gender and through new forms of representation. The Romantic lyric is designed to produce a revolutionary individuality from the poetically renewed resources of a common language. The mid-19th century realist novel perfects both a new form of writing and a new mode of subjectivity out of the materials of its dramatic and poetic predecessors. European theatre at the end of the 19th century reinvigorates the English tradition and rewrites the conventions of realism. Along with historical and generic concepts, we will also examine the constitutive role of ideas of gender and power in both text and performance. Students who successfully complete this subject will have a detailed understanding of the themes and forms of a range of key texts, and a methodological introduction to further work in English and Theatre Studies.

  • This subject introduces students to some of the key texts of modern and contemporary literature, across several genres: poetry, drama, the short story, the novel, and the filmscript. Modern and contemporary writers struggle with issues of representation, aesthetics and politics in an era of dramatic social change, and offer some intriguing reflections and meditations on the role of literature and the formation of literary tradition. This subject will explore the thematic and formal innovations of 20th century writing and some of the controversies and contexts of 20th century literature. Students will be encouraged to develop a critical framework for interpreting these texts in the light of current trends in literary criticism and critical theory. Students who successfully complete this subject will have a background of relevant knowledge and critical and interpretative skills on which to base further work in English Literary Studies.

  • This subject explores how stories are passed through time, place, genre and meaning through processes of adaptation. Adaptation is concerned with nostalgia, memory and the interpretation of history. In the present day, it has become a source of artistic and cultural transgression while also feeding global media’s need for a constant flow of product distributed across multiple platforms. We will study a variety of adaptation genres drawn from and adapted for literary and popular fiction, theatre, screen and graphic novels. Students will study texts from the literary canon alongside historical and contemporary adaptations. We will examine techniques of adaptation and ask how these texts generate new meanings and reach new audiences.

  • What causes some literary works to be consistently read by large numbers of people? In this subject, students study a selection of works commonly regarded as classics of 19th century American literature, looking at how the works have challenged or contributed, as the case may be, to some of the prevailing myths of American society. The aesthetic and historical contexts in which the texts were written will be a major focus, as will themes such as Puritan culture, the Gothic undercurrents of American writing, slavery, the American frontier and westward expansion, the American South, the concept of individualism, the retreating wilderness, the growth of American cities and mercantilism, the new woman and male and female sexuality. We will also study the texts' relation to Romanticism, Realism and Naturalism. Students who complete the subject will have a better appreciation of why these and other so-called 'classic' texts consistently attract readers and why they continue to form the substance of teaching programs and literary criticism.

  • This subject is a study of the major developments in 20th and 21st century theatre and drama within the cultural and historical context of aesthetic modernism and modernity. It starts with the anti-realist manifestos of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud, and the theatrical innovations of Samuel Beckett, to consider the key intellectual and artistic upheavals of modern theatre and drama. The subject then turns to the impact of women dramatists from the social realism of Shelagh Delaney and the political force of Caryl Churchill, to the experiential theatre of Sarah Kane in the 1990s. The subject concludes with a section on 21st century advances in theatre that engage with virtual reality, global war and social satire.

  • This subject examines modernism, the movement in literature and other arts that lasted from roughly 1890 to 1950. Rather than trying to survey every major modernist writer, we will emphasize a number of significant figures and movements. Course readings will include novels, short fiction, essays, poetry, plays, and manifestos by writers such as James Joyce (on whose Ulysses we will spend two weeks), August Strindberg, W.B. Yeats, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Aimé Césaire, and Jean Genet. In addition to working across genres, our course, like modernism, will work across national literatures. Students will learn about modernist movements and contexts such as dada, futurism, surrealism, symbolism, expressionism, theatre of the absurd, the African-American cultural revolution known as the Harlem Renaissance, the francophone négritude movement, and the queer enclaves of Paris’s Left Bank and New York City’s Greenwich Village.

  • Poetry has always been about extreme experiences, above all in the realms of love and death. But poetry is not only about extremity; it is itself an extreme experience, not least of language. This subject focuses on great poetry about love and death, their continuities and mutations over time and place. Gay, straight, celebratory, condemnatory, strange, terrifying, obscene, beautiful, ambivalent: this subject will run the gamut of the poetry of love and death, introducing students to a wide range of poets from the classics to the present, and examining their accounts of love, death, being and affect through a variety of forms and techniques. Beginning with the great lyric poems of Sappho, the subject moves from ancient Greece and Rome to medieval and early modern Europe through to the present day. Each week will introduce new poets, new modes and new situations that bear upon the central theme; each week will be accompanied by secondary readings that provide salient formal, contextual and theoretical information about the poems.

  • This subject introduces 19th century political writing, tracing the cultures of radicalism, reaction and liberal reform that emerged after the French Revolution. It focuses on the age of mass resistance, and the often-fearful reactions dissent inspired in social and political elites. Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities exemplifies the terror reverberating throughout the century, with its graphic crowd scenes and depictions of the underclass in revolt. We will examine literary responses to political issues including the 1790s pamphlet wars, Abolitionism, the Napoleonic Wars, the heroic age of popular radicalism, the Peterloo Massacre, Chartism, the Indian Mutiny‚ and the emergence of the women’s movement. Students will address concerns including the rise of realism and its overtly political agenda. They will consider fiction, poetry and political prose to discover how these different media informed each other. Students will encounter polemical writing alongside well-known canonical texts to gain an overview of the political climate of the long 19th century. On completion of this subject students will have gained an understanding of how this time of great change and uncertainty was captured in poetry and prose.

  • This subject examines Romanticism from the perspective of the massive, though long neglected, cultural force of women writers and readers in the late-18 th and early-19 th centuries. It locates the emergence of feminism in this historical context, when, in the wake of the French revolution, changing notions of literature, culture, sexuality and emancipation gave rise to the first concerted articulation of feminist ideas in modern European culture. Through close readings of some of the best writers of the last two centuries – Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Anna Barbauld, and others – students will gain a firm understanding of the literary, philosophical and cultural foundations of Romanticism and early Feminism, movements that have played key roles in the construction of the modern world.

  • This subject investigates the adaptation of Shakespeare’s drama from page to stage and beyond. It will introduce Shakespeare in historical and contemporary eras, in western and non-western sites of criticism and performance, including avant-garde and postmodern contexts for Shakespeare and Shakespearean adaptation in film and television. The subject will examine Shakespeare’s canon and key literary perspectives, including discussion of Shakespeare’s plays in relation to issues of cultural politics and power.

  • The sense of national literature formed quite soon in colonial Australia, which saw a remarkable level of literary activity across a range of genres. This subject looks at what a national literature means, and how it makes itself significant to the nation and beyond. It will think about colonialism and colonial writing in Australia, modes of Australian social realism, the emergence of an Australian modernism, ways of representing region, suburb and city, postcolonialism in Australia, 'multicultural' writing, and Indigenous literature. The focus is on the novel, short stories, poetry and genres such as romance and the Gothic.

  • This subject is for students across the university interested in understanding and enjoying theatre, an ancient art form that enjoys continuing popularity in many modern societies, including Australia. Drawing on a range of local and international examples from mainstream and experimental performance styles, we examine what is distinctive about the theatre experience, and what it can tell us about the place and times we live in. Students new to theatre should gain some insight into why it remains such a vital art form, as well as a firm grounding in theatre appreciation that will serve them well long after the subject is over. More experienced theatre-goers will find the subject’s approach to the fundamentals of the form a refreshing and provocative basis for deeper understanding and further study. In order to achieve these goals, the subject is divided into three parts. Part One identifies theatre’s unique qualities. Part Two explores how to analyse them. Part Three considers theatricality in mass culture. Lectures and tutorial discussions will draw on plays, critical writings and performance recordings, while also making the most of Melbourne’s own vibrant theatre scene.

  • This subject studies Aboriginal fiction, poetry and drama, as well as life stories and criticism, focusing on questions of reading positions (particularly for non-Aboriginal students) and representation. It pays particular attention to the diversity of Aboriginal writing in terms of form, content, voice and place and examines the manner in which the reception of Aboriginal texts has been conditioned by political and economic factors. On completion of this subject students should understand the problematics of Aboriginal writing in the context of postcolonial Australia, and its relation to everyday life.

  • This subject will proceed through close examinations of a series of debates that continue to influence literary studies today. The debates have been chosen for both their centrality and their diversity, for their historical force as for their abiding contemporary significance, for their dense particularities as for their global import. The situations, conditions, agents, arguments, concepts and consequences of the debates will be examined in detail. Key figures examined may include Jacques Derrida, Jurgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancire, among others. The particular case-studies will also serve to illuminate such general headings as Literature and Science, Literature and History, Literature and Politics, Literature and Philosophy, Literature and Society, Literature and Sexuality, Literature and Postcolonialism etc.

  • This subject examines decadence as a textual, historical, sexual and cultural formation, across a range of literary texts of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A predominantly masculine mode of radical aestheticism, manifesting symptoms of cultural crisis and informed by anxieties about class, gender and sexuality, decadence elaborated such key figures of modernity as the dandy, femme fatale, fetishist and aesthete. Students will be introduced to European and British varieties of literary decadence and aestheticism; art for art's sake theories of aesthetic production; relations between lifestyle, aestheticism and commodity culture; and emergent discourses of degeneration and sexology. The subject asks students to consider how decadent aestheticism was shaped by regulatory categories of taste and vulgarity, and by cultural practices of tastemaking, lifestyling and the aestheticisation of sexuality. Students will also consider the relationship between sexual dissidence and social and cultural distinction as produced in the representative examples of decadent literature studied.

  • This subject takes popular fiction as a specific field of cultural production. Students will analyse various definitive features of that field: popular fiction's relations to "literature", genre and identity, gender and sexuality, the role of the author profile, cinematic and TV adaptations, readerships and fan interests, and processing venues. The subject is built around a number of genres: sensation fiction, detective fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, pornography, the thriller, and fan fiction. On completion of the subject students should be familiar with some important genres of popular fiction, and some representative examples of each genre and have a developed sense of the role of popular fiction in the broader field of cultural production.

  • Students in this subject study some of the more iconic works of colonial, postcolonial and diasporic writing from the late-19 th century to the present. They pay attention to the writers’ forms and styles and to the way they address themes such as civilization, slavery, cultural encounter, and interracial conflict and desire while also learning about theoretical concepts such as Degeneration, Orientalism, nationalism, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and globalisation. Finally, they investigate the ways writers have used the space of literature to critically comment and reflect on some of the more important social and cultural problems facing ex-colonial and metropolitan societies today.

  • This subject offers an introduction to the contexts, nature, form and enduring cultural power of Gothic fiction in modernity. It examines the formal conventions of Gothic fiction as they related to the social, cultural, economic and political contexts in which it first appeared in the late 18 th century. It also tracks ways in which the genre was reworked through the 19 th and 20 th centuries. The subject connects changing historical structures of patriarchal and paternal authority to the aesthetics of horror and terror, and links modern notions of individuality to conceptions of monstrosity.

  • The Humanities have always been interested in Nature and the non-human or ‘other’, and this has gathered momentum with our increasing awareness of the planet’s vulnerability and our responsibility for averting environmental disaster. The term ‘ecocriticism’ was applied in the mid-1990s to the study of literature and the environment; since then, ecological approaches to critique have rapidly expanded into other areas, encompassing ‘dark ecology’, ‘ecological materialism’, ecofeminist and queer ecological perspectives. This subject begins with some classical and early modern conceptions of the natural world; it goes on to cover Romantic conceptions of Nature, evolution, science and species, the ‘wilderness’, human-animal relations, new environmentalisms, utopias, Indigeneity, and narratives about extinction, apocalypse and the posthuman.

  • This subject is a study of performance in its many modalities around the world. It brings together the areas of theatrical performance in traditional theatre venues, avant-garde and experimental performance in non-traditional spaces, dance both traditional and contemporary, and a range of comparative cultural performances that may include global activism and protest, sporting events, festivals and spectacles. Students will examine the impact of globalisation on performance practice and the effects of digital access to performances from around the world. They will also consider the role of the audience and spectatorship in performance reception and interpretation and develop an understanding of how meaning is negotiated and contested. Examples will be drawn from published texts, audio-visual material, and, where appropriate, live performance events.

  • This subject develops two main threads. It introduces students to one of the main genres of medieval literature, the romance, with a special focus on the representation of love, sex, and desire in the Middle Ages, and especially the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Malory and the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It also examines the phenomenon of ‘romancing’ medieval culture in the various traditions and genres of modern medievalism; for example in the poetry of Tennyson, in fairy-tales, and in modern fantasy and medievalist fiction. Some medieval texts will be read in Middle English; others in modern translation.

Entry requirements & Prerequisites

This major is available through more than one course, both of which have their own separate entry requirements.

You can read more on the the Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Arts Extended pages.