E 321 • Shakespeare: Selected Plays
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
This course offers an introduction to Shakespeare's plays, locating them in their original contexts of social production and reception. Our principal focus will be the plays' engagements with dislocations of early modern assumptions about status, kinship, gender, and service relations.
Such social uncertainties lead to questions like these: Is social rank based on birth or effort? What sorts of authority go with kinship relations? What obedience is owed to parents? Who should determine marital decisions? How is the different worth of sons or daughters to be calculated? Are women separate persons? What might they be entitled to as separate entities? Are children owned by their parents? What can they call their own? Do men and women have different kinds of friendships? What should we make of the absence of women actors on the Renaissance stageof the so-called transvestite theater? Why were women's roles played by pre-pubescent boys? Were there "homosexuals" in the Renaissance? Were early modern notions of sexuality importantly different from ours? How could masters and servants feel about each other? Were servants happy? Did they love their masters? Why does the same word ("service") describe categories of labor and sexuality? How does servant status interact with social rank? How can a duke be a servant? Is a husband master of his wife? Can a queen be married to her country?
Tentative assignments: There will be five 3-page typed memo assignments, of which you will write only four (omitting one of your choice), on assigned topics dealing with issues raised in the lectures and discussions. Together they'll be worth 90% of your final grade. Study questions will be distributed by e-mail as we move through the texts. There will be no cumulative final exam. To pass the course you must complete all required memos; late memos will receive a penalty. Participation will count for the other 10% of the grade.
These listed will probably be ordered (and these editions recommended), but you can use any you already own (except for the Lear). I strongly advise you to use texts with rich annotations and glosses. (The King Lear edition is crucial to buy; wait for in-class explanation on this before you decide to use another text.)
Hamlet (Oxford), Henry IV, Part One (Oxford), Henry IV, Part Two (Cambridge), Henry V (Cambridge), King Lear (Cambridge), Othello (Cambridge), Richard II (Cambridge), The Merchant of Venice (Cambridge), Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (Norton)