William Shakespeare

A noteworthy element of Shakespeare’s plays—both in criticism and in performance—has been his treatment of gender and sexuality, whether we focus on the witty banter between women and men in As You Like It or sexual paranoia in Othello. Early modern English culture invested in a patriarchal and binary conceptualization of gender hierarchy, which shaped its understanding of marriage, friendship, governance, and sexuality in complex ways. Throughout the semester, we will attend to the ways that Shakespeare engages with this vision of gender hierarchy, situating it historically and within the framework of contemporary performance. How might present day performances of Shakespeare’s plays re-inscribe or challenge the plays’ sexual and gender politics?

This survey course has two other aims. Firstly, it will situate Shakespeare historically, grounding his plays in the London theatre scene of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods, from roughly the 1580s to the 1620s. Secondly, we will read from all representative genres that Shakespeare wrote in, specifically comedies, tragedies, and histories, so we will be better attuned to how genre shapes representations of gender and sexuality. We will read a variety of plays and some of the sonnets, including but not limited to The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest.


Book List

The Norton Shakespeare.  Third Edition. Stephen Greenblatt, ed.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 2016.


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 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:  

Participation                                                                            10%

Response Paper (650 words)                                                  15%

Class Presentation (650 words)                                              15%

Blog Responses (5 x 50 words at a minimum)                       10%

Final Exam (1200 words)                                                       20%

Final Paper (2000 words)                                                       30%