Undergraduate English Courses

358:426 Seminar: Shakespeare and the Philosophy of Friendship

01  W 4,5   CAC   17749  LEVAO  MU-207

Shakespeare and the Philosophy of Friendship

We will examine Shakespeare's share in what used to be called the "Renaissance cult of friendship," a nearly obsessive appropriation and transformation of classical and medieval speculation about friendship by early-modern writers. We will consider the three major classical discussions, by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, and look briefly at some medieval and Renaissance representations including Montaigne's essay, "Of Friendship," and Marlowe's play, Edward II, in the course of reading Shakespeare. Among the questions we will consider are: What impels the search for and contemplation of an alter ego? How is friendship (philia) to be distinguished from erotic love, and how permeable is the boundary? What kinds of friendship are possible between men? between women? How is friendship theory deployed in formulating the ideal of a "companionate marriage"? Is friendship a foundation for political order or a threat to public life? Is friendship a form of self-knowledge? Is friendship altruistic or an egoistic impulse masquerading as altruism? What is the relation between friendship writing and early-modern subjectivity, solitude, and anxiety? Some modern theorists, philosophers, and literary critics will also be used to help us in our discussions, but the primary emphasis will be on Shakespeare.

Shakespearean works will probably include the Sonnets, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, Othello, Timon of Athens, The Winter's Tale, and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

There will be two writing options: three moderate-length papers of gradually increasing ambition, or two papers, the first relatively short, the second a 15-page term paper.