Seminar in Shakespeare: Theorizing Race, Sexuality, Gender, and Ecology


Seminar in Shakespeare:

Theorizing Race, Sexuality, Gender, and Ecology

Instructor:       Dr. Derrick Higginbotham

Time:              Fridays, 3.15 – 5.45pm

Location:         SAKIMAKI B211


Office Hours:  TBA

Location:         KUY 618

Course Description:

In this seminar, we will critically reflect on the ways that the study of early modern English literature, via the work of Shakespeare, has transformed over the last five years; the field looks nothing like it did in the past because new theories and methodologies have transformed our studies. These new theoretical models will continue to change our understanding of the early modern period and its cultural and political legacies. This class consists of three sections, each one focusing on different theories that have generated new understandings of Shakespeare and his world. These sections are not meant to be thought of as wholly distinct from one another; rather, the aim will be to show the ways that different theories ultimately entangle with one another to produce powerful readings.

The first section, “Race, Racism and Global Shakespeare,” will focus on Antony and Cleopatra, and The Merchant of Venice. It will explore the ways that these texts represent race and racism, with attention to the politics of racecraft that these texts expose, animate, and, at times, critique. The second section, “Stormy Weather,” will attend to the different ways that eco-criticism has enabled scholars to reframe key texts like The Tempest, and King Lear. Such reframing will allow students to grasp the innovation that thinking about the environment can lend to our understanding of the ethical crises we face on multiple levels, local, regional, and planetary. The final section, “Transitions,” will attend to the ways that queer theory and trans studies also has energized new reflections on the socio-cultural understandings of Shakespeare’s works. We will read Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. In our analyses, we will consider the instability of sexual desire and the fluidity of gender in these plays, along with the efforts that these plays make to reassert norms of sexuality and gender, linking such analyses to contemporary debates on sexual and gender identities.

Throughout, we will read select secondary work—historical, literary, and theoretical—that will facilitate our consideration of the ways that these new methods can transform our understanding of these literary texts as well as the past and our present, more broadly. We will also engage with selected film and theatrical adaptations, which will facilitate our thinking about how Shakespeare’s texts continue to speak into the present. Animating questions will be: what effects do new methods have on early modern texts? Why continue to revitalize these early modern texts via such theoretical and methodological innovations? What, in a larger sense, is the importance of criticism itself as a practice? What are the uses of the past?

Student Learning Outcomes

In this course, students will:


  • Gain a rich understanding of early modern English culture via a focus on Shakespeare’s works and the early modern theater as a cultural institution
  • Grasp the ways the ways that creatives in film and theater adapt Shakespeare’s texts
  • Develop theoretical insights into adaptation as a part of the creative process
  • Improve their knowledge of different methods for interpreting texts such as feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory, and ecocriticism
  • Strengthen their skills in historicizing texts and objects
  • Better their capacity in crafting a paper, especially in handling an array of primary and secondary sources to make an argument
  • Practice crafting an adaptation, if doing the creative option of the final assignment
  • Conduct oral presentations that effectively convey arguments to your audience.

Required Texts

Shakespeare, W., Antony and Cleopatra. John Wilders, ed. Arden Shakespeare: 1995.

Shakespeare, W., The Merchant of Venice. John Drakakis, ed. Arden Shakespeare, 2010.

Shakespeare, W., The Tempest. Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan,  eds. Arden Shakespeare, 2011.

Shakespeare, W., King Lear. R. A. Foakes, ed. Arden Shakespeare, 1997.

Shakespeare, W., Twelfth Night. Kier Elam, ed. Arden Shakespeare, 2008.

Shakespeare, W. Much Ado About Nothing. Claire McEachern, ed. Arden Shakespeare, 2007.

I will provide PDF of short, selected readings, including criticism, for each of the readings.


Participation                                                                                       10%

Presentation (10 Minutes)                                                                  15%

Presentation Write-up/Reflection                                                       15%

Wikipedia Project (1,000 words)                                                       20%

Class Provocation (300 words and each student does 1)                   5%

Final Project (Research or Creative Options) (4,000 words)             35%