Shakespeare’s cultural impact on early modern theater is undeniable and that impact continues to be felt not only in England and America but globally, with dramatic performances and film/media adaptations of his works occurring in locations as far flung as Yemen, India, and Japan. That his works endure is one of the rationales for this course: what makes Shakespeare’s works resonate in our times? What made his works distinctive theatrically and thematically in his own era?
To answer such questions, we will examine a selection of his dramatic works that covers the major genres in which he wrote, specifically history plays, comedies, and tragedies. Together, we will read two comedies, Twelfth Night and The Tempest; we also will read one of his history plays, Richard II, and of his tragedies, we will analyze King Lear and Macbeth. As well, we will read a range of his sonnets, a popular poetic form that Shakespeare adapted for his own interests, with one of our assignments focused on this form.
Along the way, we will reflect upon the different ways that such works have been updated in performance, in film, and in other artforms, so as to track Shakespeare’s legacies. This course also will situate Shakespeare’s plays and poetry in the London theatre scene of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods, from roughly the 1590s to the 1620s, so that students can appreciate his importance not only via his cultural legacies but also in his own time historical moment.
We will use either the Folger Shakespeare Library editions or the Arden Shakespeare editions of each of the plays and a collection of the sonnets.
Student Learning Outcomes:
In this course, students will:
- Practice reading literary texts critically and appreciate how genre shapes content
- Improve their skills at presenting research orally
- Grasp the history of the theatre in early modern 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
- Improve their skills in incorporating and documenting secondary scholarship when crafting an argumentative essay
Methods of Assessment:
Response Paper (700 words) 15%
Blog Responses (5 x 50 words at a minimum) 10%
Sonnet Project 15%
Final Exam (1200 words) 20%
Final Paper (2000 words) 30%