Introduction to English Drama and Poetry

Home Admissions Course Guide Introduction to English Drama and Poetry

This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


Introduction to English Drama and Poetry

ENGL A132 Introduction to English Drama and Poetry is one of three five-credit English Literature courses offered by the School of Arts and Social Sciences. This foundation-level elective course is open to undergraduates of all academic disciplines. The course is structured so that students of varying backgrounds can select the course without the restrictions of prerequisites. This course can also serve as a pre-requisite for ENGL A231 English Literature and the Modern World.

The course introduces you to the critical reading of a selection of major dramatic texts and poems from different periods in the history of Western literature. The public finds great pleasure in the collective experience of theater-going to see texts performed for the public by skilled performers, some of them made famous through films and television as well as the stage. How do performers approach drama texts? We shall try to split up a dramatic text into its building blocks, the scenic units that give clues to character and action as performed on stage.

Poetry will be selected from The Norton Introduction to Literature (shorter ninth edition). Poetry is also an oral art. The music of words is a major element in the appeal of poetry as well as its often vivid verbal images. The meaning of verse can be simple or complex but the feelings aroused by the music and imagery make the message both memorable and pleasurable, as with many songs.

The study units of our course feature texts written in English by writers born in England and elsewhere, and, in the case of Oedipus the King, an ancient Greek text translated into modern English. Some poems are from American and Commonwealth writers using English.

You will be given the basic tools for reading drama and poetry through selected plays and poems written in English or translated into English, in the case of classical Greek drama. The Greek example is necessary because all western drama springs from this extraordinary source of 2300 years ago. Modern plays and poems from Shakespeare's sonnets onwards will be included. You will recognize that many poems are in fact dramatic as well as lyrical. You will be more sensitive to the English language as spoken by educated and less educated people and you will better appreciate aspects of spoken English such as mood and tone. You will find critical methods for better appreciation of drama and poetry. Let us now review the aims and learning outcomes of this course.


Course aims

ENGL A132 aims to:

  • Introduce methods of reading, understanding and appreciating literary works from the genres of drama and poetry together with the basic critical terminology used.
  • Explore different forms of drama and their staging.
  • Explore different forms of poetry.
  • Examine the critical approaches used for textual analysis of drama and of poetry.
  • Broaden students' intellectual horizons through works of drama and poetry.
  • Demonstrate uses of verbal imagery as well as language variety in texts from both genres.

Course learning outcomes

Upon the completion of ENGL A132 you should be able to:

  • Discuss both drama and poetry as literary genres.
  • Identify the role of dramatic texts not only as literary works but also as texts for public performance.
  • Define and apply the terminology used in the study of drama and poetry.
  • Analyse play texts and poems in a critical manner.
  • Describe some of the varied uses of language in drama and poetry.

This is the nuts-and-bolts, informative section, providing information such as what materials are needed, and how the assignments and marking are arranged. Please read it carefully.


Print materials

In addition to this Course Guide, your print materials will include your study units for the course, your set texts and references, the Assignment File and the Presentation Schedule.

This course has eight study units, each with activities and self-tests designed to help you work on what you are reading. Answers are suggested, but please do the activities and self-tests before consulting the answers. Useful supplementary readings and websites are also provided, from which you will be asked to read selected pages.

Now look at the outline of the study units below:


Study units

Unit 1: Drama and poetry as genres

This unit introduces you to drama and to poetry as literary genres which are sometimes but not always connected. Drama before the last century was often written in verse. Different forms of drama will be noted as well as a selection of the most common forms of poetry. This will provide us with a basic context for the plays and poems encountered in the units that follow. We briefly consider Aristotle's idea of tragedy and of dramatic structure.


Unit 2: Greek tragedy: Oedipus the King

Classical Greek drama, through a study of Oedipus the King, will be discussed in Unit 2, because it is the earliest western drama that has been very influential on later dramatists.

The unit offers us a brilliant dramatic text that has fascinated western audiences for many centuries. It can conveniently be divided into 'scenic units' which are the basic building blocks of dramatic scenes and, in later drama, what editors have called 'acts'. We shall consider Oedipus as a tragic hero trapped by fate or 'dike' and refer to Aristotle's idea of tragedy.


Unit 3: Shakespearean comedy: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This unit briefly introduces students to ideas about Shakespearean tragedy and history plays before studying his comedy and the rich sexual fantasy in the comic view of life found in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Comedy as a dramatic form in Western drama, like tragedy, may be traced back to Greece. It was developed in the Roman theatres and later emerged in the Italian comedies and farces that influenced French and English drama. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy that includes farcical elements and rich fantasy to explore human imagination and sexuality.


Unit 4: Drama of ideas: George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man

This unit introduces you to the drama of ideas most famously associated with the major Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. George Bernard Shaw, directly influenced by Ibsen in his own plays, publicized the Norwegian among the British public and writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Arms and the Man will be read as a comedy of ideas relevant to its times and social context. The drama of ideas, often embedded, at least since Shakespeare's time, in what has been called 'the problem play' arose in Henrik Ibsen's work largely because Norway, a recently independent nation, was at the time forging anew its national identity. As an Irishman hoping for an Ireland newly independent of British rule, Shaw was well aware of problems of national as well as personal identity. The drama of ideas was a logical outcome for dramatists wishing to explore such themes in the theatre.
This unit thus studies Arms and the Man as a play of ideas illustrating some of the concerns of the society and the theatre of Shaw's time.


Unit 5: Shakespearean sonnets

This unit explores the sonnet as used by Shakespeare, showing how he makes this short form of poetry pack in a great deal of human experience. It also notes that sonnets were often written to form parts of a larger design in the sonnet 'sequence'. The unit also notes the difference from the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet's rhyme scheme.

The sonnet arrived in England under the influence of Italian sonneteers and created a fashion among poets such as Wyatt, Surrey, Spenser, and Sidney. Among the Elizabethan writers, Shakespeare developed his own approach to the sonnet, sometimes making fun of the conventions used by his predecessors and contemporaries. His rhyme scheme is looser than that of the Italian sonnet. He gives the impression of a man meditating, talking to himself, or to others, about significant moments and problems encountered in real life. This he achieves by his choice of subject matter and his colloquial diction. The sonnets may be connected in subject matter with some of the plays and it is noteworthy that in Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare marks the moment of their falling in love by writing their dialogue as if it were a sonnet.


Unit 6: Romantic poetry

This unit explores what is implied by the label 'romantic' through studying poems dating from the late eighteenth century into the early nineteenth century. We shall examine the themes, personal and societal, with poetic forms, verbal imagery and music in our discussion.

There are many thousands of definitions for the term 'romantic' and this shows that no single definition of romantic or romanticism as a literary movement in Europe is wholly satisfactory. The medieval use of the term 'romance' was a way of describing the modern languages of Europe derived partly from Latin but very different from it — Italian, French, and Spanish were different from Latin and newly important, finally eclipsing Latin. These were the romance languages. Thus the term suggests something new, something different from the classicism of Ancient Greece and Rome. In the neo-classical period of English literature stretching from the seventeenth into the eighteenth century, certain writers began to rebel against neo-classical methods and embraced new and different attitudes and conventions. Examples among the poets were Thomson, Young, Gray, Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the nineteenth century, a younger generation of writers followed, such as Shelley, Keats, and Lord Byron. These new attitudes were also felt in Europe, the early Romantics and Byron being much admired there, and it was the German Schlegel who first used 'romantisch' about literary works. We shall work again through the study of individual poems.


Unit 7: Modern poetry

This unit explores some of the poetry written in the late nineteenth century and stretching into the twentieth century. Poetry written nowadays is usually called 'contemporary poetry' to distinguish it from the earlier modern poetry and some other movements such as 'war poetry' or 'new romanticism'.

What is generally known in English literature as the modern period begins in the late nineteenth century and stretches into the late twentieth century. Within this period critics and literary historians have used the term 'modernism' as a way of classifying some of the prominent modern writers who experimented in such a way as to ensure that their work was not Victorian. Social attitudes changed rapidly in the latter years of Queen Victoria's reign and after World War I it has been said that society was never the same. World War II brought further significant changes to the world and to Britain in particular. Writing could not help being affected by these upheavals. Subject matter, forms and conventions, and literary experiments, all challenged the reader. New methods of close reading of texts dominated criticism. Difficulty and obscurity of texts was often seen as a sign of intellectual power and literary merit. In some cases this might be true; in others we must admit that merely private references and symbolism do little for literature as communication between people.


Unit 8: Post-colonial poetry

This unit explores some of the poetry written in English in British colonies or former colonies, hence the term 'post-colonial'. Such poetry is distinguished by the fact that though it uses English as its language, it expresses the sensibilities and concerns of writers who live and work in, or originate from, different countries around the world.

Advanced thinkers in Britain and elsewhere reject the old idea held by rulers from ancient times onwards that by conquest one could become a 'great' king and warrior and extend one's land until it was a mighty empire. It is but recently in the history of human beings that people have argued that empires are wrong, because they subject people of different regions, cultures, and languages to some central rule not necessarily theirs. Nevertheless, it is also true that the organization of large groups of people under a central government is necessary to avoid chaos and to enable peaceful trading and more comfortable ways of life. With the break-up of the British empire, beginning with American independence in the late eighteenth century, followed later by Irish independence in southern Ireland just after World War I, and continuing at a faster pace after World War II in different regions around the world, we have seen the growth of new literatures all using English as their language. Thus we have a growth of distinct new literary histories in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more recently India and the Caribbean.
Novels, plays and poetry have all been written to become part of a new dimension in English literary history but in this unit we study just some of the poetry.


Assignment File

Your Assignment File contains information such as the number of assignments: two essays (assignments) and one oral presentation by means of the OLE. You will also note there is a two-hour examination at the end for the whole course. See more details in the section on assessment in this Course Guide and in the Assignment File itself.


Presentation schedule

The Presentation Schedule is available on the Online Learning Environment (OLE). It gives the dates for completing assignments, and attending tutorials, together with other practical information.


Other print materials

For the ENGL A132 units listed above, the required texts are all the plays and poems studied in the course and some reference books (see below).

You are expected to read all the set plays and poems and selected useful pages from the reference texts. It will be useful, too, if you read materials online in relevant official websites listed for the course.


Set plays:

Shakespeare, William (1979) A Midsummer Night's Dream, London: Arden,

Shaw, George Bernard (1990) Arms and the Man, New York: Dover,

Sophocles (1994) Oedipus the King, New York: Pocket Books or New York: W W Norton & Company.


Set poems:

W H Auden's Stop all the Clocks, Cut off the Telephone

Seamus Heaney's Digging, Mid-Term Break

Ezra Pound's The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter, In a Station of the Metro

Robert Burns' A Red, Red Rose (1796)

T S Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Shakespearean Sonnets # 17, 18, 29, 73, 91, 116, 129 and 130

Derek Walcott's A Far Cry from Africa, A City's Death by Fire, Two Poems on the Passing of an Empire and A Letter from Brooklyn

William Blake's Tyger, The Chimney Sweeper (1789 and 1794) and The Sick Rose

Wordsworth's She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways (1800) and London (1802)(1800)

W B Yeats' The Second Coming


Reference books:

  • Abrams, M H (2011) A Glossary of Literary Terms, 10th edn, Boston: Thompson.
  • Booth, A, Paul, J J and Hunter, B (2005) The Norton Introduction to Literature, shorter 9th edn, New York: W W Norton & Company.

Set textbook

There is no set textbook for this course.


Online and multimedia materials


A series of video presentations will be provided. These will be uploaded to HKMU's Online Learning Environment (OLE).



The following websites will be highlighted for student use (interactive use) as they embrace thematic topics within units:

Introduction to Drama:

Greek Drama:


And the Globe:

G B Shaw:


Modern Poetry:




Equipment needed (IT resources)


  • a PC with a Pentium III 800 MHz processor or better;
  • 512 MB RAM (ideally 1GB RAM);
  • 1GB of free disk space;
  • earphones and a microphone; and
  • a broadband connection to the Internet


  • English Windows XP or better;
  • Web browser: Firefox 2, Internet Explorer 7, or a compatible equivalent.

These will enable you to write and also consult information available through the Internet. Please note that you may also be required to download some free software to your computer for recording your oral presentation to be submitted online for Assignment 3.



Continuous assessment

Continuous assessment for ENGL A132 is built upon two approaches. The first is the traditional essay mode, which will be used in the first two assignments of the course. The second approach is the motivational mode of oral presentation assessment.



There are two assignments in the form of essays. Assignment 1 covers Units 1 to 3 and Assignment 2 relates to Units 4 to 6. These two assignments emphasize your critical, analytical and written abilities and are designed to help you in exploring the selected literary texts and relevant concepts further. The assignments are worth 35% of the total course marks.


Oral presentation

The second approach to continuous assessment requires students to make an oral presentation by audio recording, to be submitted through the OLE. This comprises 15% of the total course marks.


Final examination

The final examination will be course-wide in scope and will cover all dimensions of ENGL A132. Through a two-hour examination session, students will have the opportunity to display their understanding and analytical ability in the learned areas. Both short questions and essay questions will be included.

The assessment items are outlined in the following table.


AssessmentCourse area coveredWeighting
Assignment 1Units 1-315%
Assignment 2Units 4-620%
Assignment 3
(Oral presentation through audio recording)
Entire course15%
ExamEntire course50%

This table brings together the units, the time taken to complete them, and the assignments that follow them.


1Drama and poetry as genres2
2Greek tragedy: Oedipus the King2
3Shakespearean comedy: A Midsummer Night's Dream2
 Assignment 1 due
4Drama of ideas: George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man2
5Shakespearean sonnets2
6Romantic poetry2
 Assignment 2 due
7Modern poetry2
8Post-colonial poetry2
 Assignment 3 due
 Final examination

Drama and most poetry are written to be acted, recited or read aloud. It follows that you should do this yourself and listen to professional actors and poets performing plays on DVD or on recordings of poetry and drama. If you are able, try to attend a live drama performance and if possible a poetry reading in English by a recognized published poet. You can have a lot of fun by getting friends to read a play with you. For this you might have a local library with multiple copies of your set plays. If not you would have to photocopy the texts. Note unfamiliar words and colloquial turns of phrase in your texts but do not look in a dictionary every time. Do this for the main words that seem the most important. You may need to go over certain sections of the unit more than once in order to ensure you have grasped the essential ideas and terminology for understanding drama, theatre, and poetry of any period. Remember, stage drama and films give you an imagined world and imagined people that are parallel to the real world, offering insights into people and their ways of life. In studying drama and poetry it sometimes helps to know the main facts of an author's life (we know very little about Sophocles or Shakespeare) and the main historical developments that surround their works. Yet while knowledge of an author's real life is perhaps a help in reading the work, it is not a substitute for reading and engaging in a critique of the texts themselves. You should consult information on the website(s) mentioned. Remember that reading creative work itself is the major task. Critics can help, but they help best when you know what they are writing about.

The self-tests and activities supplied in each unit are very useful to help you make a habit of being brief, clear and always ready with page references that illustrate points you note. Nothing wastes more time than asking oneself 'Now what page was that on?'— and then hunting through your text to find out. The activities should stimulate your own thinking and help you to check your progress. Make a serious effort to answer these questions on your own. Don't give in to the temptation to jump directly to the answers.

Poetry and drama are all around you in bookshops and libraries. But don't forget that dramatic performances can also be seen live or on TV or DVD. Live poetry readings in English might be quite rare but there are plenty of recordings of romantic era poetry. You will get more satisfaction and fulfilment from your studies once you are able to appreciate for yourself the impact and significance of drama and poetry. Try to find friends with similar interests to discuss your ideas with them. A play reading group is one way to do this. Another is for you to meet friends for a session of reading one poem and then discussing a little bit about it, more than saying you liked it or found it difficult. Go further, and try to discuss why it appealed or what the actual difficulties were. It is fun to see different reactions to the same literary work.


Tutors and tutorials

This course has 16 hours of tutorials (i.e. eight sessions of two-hour each). You are strongly encouraged to attend and participate in these tutorials. During these precious hours you can discuss the set texts, raising any points about drama, poetry and the language used that may be puzzling. Sometimes a difficulty could take hours to resolve by yourself, whereas in tutorials the point can be raised, discussed and answers or pointers discovered in a few minutes. You can also use the telephone tutoring service. Please remember that tutorials not only help you to consolidate what you have learnt but they encourage greater use of discussion and allow you to meet others with many points of view.


Online Learning Environment

This course is supported by the Online Learning Environment (OLE). You can find course materials and the latest course information from the OLE. Through the OLE, you can also communicate with your tutors, the Course Coordinator as well as fellow students. For details about the OLE and how to access it, please refer to the Online Learning Environment User Guide.

ENGL A132 Introduction to English Drama and Poetry is a five-credit foundation level elective course for undergraduate students of all academic disciplines. There are no pre-requisites for students taking this course. This Course Guide has provided an outline of how the course will be presented, including information on the course materials, study schedule, student support and assessment.

Above all, have fun learning by reading and re-reading and perhaps performing some of the works you enjoy in this course. I wish you all the very best of luck with finding inspiration for making clear, sensible points in your assignments, as well as in discussions and examinations.

Andrew Parkin was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and in the Department of Drama at Bristol University, where he obtained his PhD in Drama. He is a poet and critic who taught in schools in England and Hong Kong early in his career and in tertiary education in Britain, Canada and Hong Kong. He became a Full Professor of English Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he was Chairman of first-year English and also editor of The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. When he stepped down from this editorial post, he gained the Council of Editors of Learned Journals award for Most Distinguished Retiring Editor of a Journal. He became Professor and Head of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1991 and retired as Professor Emeritus and Honorary Senior Tutor of Shaw College. As a poet he won first prize in the international Martini Rossi Sonnet Competition in 1985.

He has published many academic books, including The Dramatic Imagination of W B Yeats (1978), an edition of W B Yeats’s play, The Herne’s Egg (1991), and, most recently, ‘At the Hawk’s Well’ and ‘The Cat and the Moon’: Manuscript Materials (by W B Yeats) edited by Andrew Parkin (2010). His study guide to Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1980) was designed for sixth-formers and first-year university students. As a poet, Andrew Parkin has published Dancers in a Web (1987), Yokohama Days, Kyoto Nights (1992), Hong Kong Poems (1997) in collaboration with Laurence Wong and other distinguished translators, The Rendez-Vous: Poems of Multicultural Experience (2003), Shaw Sights and Sounds (2006), and a long poem to celebrate the 100th birthday of Sir Run Run Shaw, Star of a Hundred Years: a Scenariode for Sir Run Run Shaw (2009). This poem appeared in English with a translation into Hindi by the poet-critic Anuraag Sharma. His most recent books are Star with a Thousand Moons (2011) and Another Rendez- Vous: Poetry and Prose from the Cultural Crossroads (2011). Individual poems by Andrew Parkin have been translated into Chinese, French and German.