Shakespeare’s Outsiders and the Cultural Politics of Film Adaptation
This course will explore Shakespeare’s depiction of outsiders—characters that do not fit norms defined by class, gender, race, religion, or even embodiment itself—and their centrality to many of his plays and films adaptations of his works. There is, for instance, the otherworldly fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the jealous general in Othello, the malevolent Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus, and the star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, among others. In dramatic terms, why does Shakespeare focus on outsiders? How are these outsiders different from, and similar to, each other? What does this concentration on outsiders suggest about the audiences of these plays and the culture in which they lived? We will discover answers to these questions by analyzing select dramas that cover the major genres—comedy, tragedy, and history plays—from across Shakespeare’s career. While we query the representation of outsiders, we also will situate these plays within the theatrical context of early modern London.
Besides historicizing the plays, we also will scrutinize the ways that present-day artists adapt these texts so that they continue to resonate in popular cultures across different countries. To do this, we will screen film treatments of each play we read—especially film treatments that translate Shakespeare into popular genres like teen movies or crime dramas—with the aim of reflecting on modern interpretations of Shakespeare’s outsiders, drawing out differences and similarities between the early modern past and the contemporary moment. We will scrutinize the ways that film directors and actors transform Shakespeare’s texts to speak into the cultural politics of the present, with special attention to the intersections of sexuality, religion, race, gender, and class.
Book List (This list is tentative)
Henry V, Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004.
Hamlet, Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2003.
Titus Andronicus, Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2005.
Othello, Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004
Romeo and Juliet, Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004.
Student Learning Outcomes:
In this course, students will:
- Practice reading literary texts critically and appreciate how genre shapes content
- Grasp the history of the theatre in England and its importance as a cultural and political institution
- Gain an understanding of literature’s potential and limits as a source for cultural history
- Learn how to interpret film and acquiring the vocabulary to critique its modes of narration
- Improve their skills in incorporating and documenting secondary scholarship when crafting an argumentative essay
Methods of Assessment:
Response Paper (650 words) 15%
Movie Review (650 words) 15%
Blog Responses (5 x 50 words at a minimum) 10%
Final Exam (1200 words) 20%
Final Paper (2000 words) 30%