Shakespeare - English 3250
Visitors today come from around the world to London to see the plays of William Shakespeare. They did in Shakespeare’s day as well. Four hundred years ago, the London theater was wildly popular entertainment, where working people who had splurged for standing-room entry would heckle comic improvisors while snacking on hazelnuts. Today, Shakespeare inspires a high-culture hush, with students studying footnotes to follow the intricate language.
In this class, we’ll think about the Shakespearean theater in Shakespeare’s time, in ours, and in between. With the abundance of enthralling performances on offer in London, we can begin to understand why people flocked to London theater the way we binge-watch Netflix series. In the finer grain, we will explore how the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries shaped ideas we have inherited about love, gender, social order, justice, politics, humanity, and the natural world. We’ll develop techniques to unpack language that can be challenging for modern students. We will explore uses of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century factory life and in twentieth-century prisons. Considering similarities and differences in how these issues worked in Shakespeare’s day and in ours, we also will compare and contrast ways that American, British, and other cultures think of “Shakespeare.”
The selection of plays is anchored by performances we will attend. It will be supplemented by a study of film adaptations, historical theatrical sites, and a wide variety of contexts (prisons, stock exchanges, shipping wharves, palaces) in Tudor-Stuart London. We will visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, see plays in venues ranging from re-created Renaissance theaters to virtual-reality immersive spaces, and will explore how Shakespearean plays have been deployed in historical moments from the 1603 coup attempt against Queen Elizabeth, to Winston Churchill in World War II, to contemporary debates about Brexit.