E 366K • Shakespeare: Select Tragedies
5:00 PM-6:30 PM
This course will offer an overview of Shakespeare's tragedies and their reception. One goal will be to consider the basis and implications of the conventional wisdom that Shakespeare's most active decades in the theatre (1590-1610) come at the heart of the English Renaissance and that his tragedies are among its most poignant and variously significant expressions. My assumption is that the notion of a historical period such at the English Renaissance is a useful one, if only as a conceptual convenience, regardless of whether we tend to understand this particular period primarily as one of an unusual confluence of disparate cultural traditions or as one of extraordinary social and economic uncertainty and turmoil.
I'm particularly interested in those moments in Shakespeare's plays that reflect on the nature of dramatic or theatrical fiction while nevertheless being a part of such a fiction. Discussions along this line will be pushed toward greater awareness of the historical conditions of Renaissance drama and particularly the conditions under which these plays were performed--during daylight, on a relatively unadorned, thrust stage, with a repertory company of limited size and composed entirely of males. Also of interest are the various dramatic models and idioms with which Shakespeare played, his choices of historical moments to represent on stage, and the pertinence of such play and such choices in the waning years of Elizabeth's reign and the beginning years of James'. The action of Shakespeare's plays generally involves sex, religion, and politics. We will attempt to gain some insight into these topics of discussion and their pertinence to the action of Shakespeare's plays.
Assignments will include two essays: one short diagnostic essay due early in term (2-3 pages; 10%) and a long final essay (10-12 pages; 40%). Students will also be asked to enter regularly into a reading journal (15%), to prepare for unannounced quizzes on the readings (25%), and recite selected excerpts of the plays from memory (10%).