Fall 2017 Undergraduate English Courses
358:426 Seminar: Shakespeare Here and Now
01 M 3,4 CAC 18493 BARTELS HC-S124
Shakespeare Here and Now
How do we write and think about Shakespeare in a way that helps us navigate our own cultural moment? We are not Prince Hamlet, nor were meant to be – a good thing, given the outcome (see Hamlet Act 5). But Shakespeare’s plays delve into subjects that are relevant, if not pressing, now. They invite us to see what happens as political corruption and cover-ups (Hamlet), sexual predation (Measure for Measure), tyranny and treason (Julius Caesar), and the circulation of fake news (Richard III) come to define the status quo. They look within and across cultures to the ways that religion (The Merchant of Venice) and racial and ethnic differences (Othello) become targets of discrimination and law. They ask us to think across boundaries of sexuality and gender (Twelfth Night), to see desire as part of a complex social and economic ordering and disordering. They engage us seriously in the play of language (The Tempest), insisting that we are what we speak. And they teach us to “see better” (King Lear), as they expose the tremendous – and sometimes terrifying – power that representation holds (Much Ado About Nothing) to make or break “the” truth.
In this class, we’ll come to Shakespeare’s plays – primarily, the ones listed above – with contemporary issues in mind, keeping an eye on the vast historical differences that separate sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England from the U. S. in 2017-18. We will not only become better readers of our own moment and Shakespeare’s; we will become better writers. We’ll devote an important part of the seminar to workshopping our own prose, taking on argumentation as creative writers and developing a life-skill that will foster our intellectual and professional success as students of Shakespeare and citizens of the world.
Assignments will include the reading of one play, along with contextual materials (historical documents, films, performance videos, e.g.), per week; weekly writing assignments or creative projects; plus one final paper or project. Class attendance and participation – and a willingness to explore, engage, experiment, perform, and create – are crucial.