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Stages of Power: Marlowe and Shakespeare, 1592

by Eric S. Mallin and Paul V. Sullivan

Elizabethan players act the power struggles of their time.

It is October 1592. Christopher Marlowe, the most accomplished playwright in London, has written The Massacre at Paris for his company, the Lord Admiral’s Men. Bubonic plague has hit outlying parishes, forcing theaters to close and postponing the season. Ordinarily, the Rose Theatre would debut Marlowe’s work, but its subject—the St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre—is unpleasant and might inflame hostilities against Catholics and their sympathizers, such as merchants on whom trade depends. A new company, the Lord Strange’s Men, boasts a young writer, William Shakespeare, who is said to have several barnburners in the queue. A competition is called to decide which company will reopen the theaters. Who will most effectively represent the nation’s ideals and energies, its humor and grandeur? One troupe will gain supremacy, primarily for literary but also for cultural, religious, and political reasons.



Cultural and Social History; Literature/English; Religion; Rhetoric and Performance Studies; Western Civ/History; Drama and Theatre

16th Century; Early Modern Period

In a Few Words
Theatrical. Political. Poetical.


Notable Roles

The Earl of Essex, Lord Burghley, Edmund Tilney (Master of the Revels)

Themes and Issues  

How do starving artists enact the power struggles of their time for fun and profit?

Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive, Collaborative, Aggressive, Coalition-Building, Theatrical

Sample Class Titles
Reacting to the Past; Shakespeare; Early Modern Drama; History at Play

Published Level 5 game (what's that mean?

Physical props (such costumes as the acting companies choose for performances)

Chaos and Demand on Instructor
This game is moderately chaotic and fairly demanding on the instructor. Strong faction heads (Essex and Burghley) and company leaders (Burbage and Alleyn) are important for momentum.

Primary Source Highlights

A Marlowe play, a Shakespeare play, and an anthology of excerpts from early modern texts (in game book)

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is recommended for classes with up to 22 students. 

Class Time  
For this game, 2 to 3 setup sessions and 5 to 6 game sessions are recommended.

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. Stages of Power may pair well with:

You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include creative writing, criticism, and letter writing. All roles are required to give formal speeches.


Confirmed instructors who are not yet members can access basic instructor materials. Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading. 


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content. The Stages of Power Gamebook is published by Reacting Consortium Press. 

PAPERBACK ISBN: 978-1-4696-3144-8

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-4696-3145-5
Available wherever books are sold.

Role Sheets

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

.zip file.

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.  

VERSION 2.0. Updated 2014. .docx file.


Eric S. Mallin

Eric S. Mallin is associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Godless Shakespeare and Inscribing the Time: Shakespeare and the End of Elizabethan England.

Paul V. Sullivan

Paul V. Sullivan is a lecturer in English and the humanities program at the University of Texas at Austin. He has published works on early modern education and drama and on teaching Shakespeare.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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