This course provides an intensive introduction to some of Shakespeare's best-known works: a representative sample of tragedies, comedies, histories and tragicomedies. In addition to considerations of form and style, we will examine the plays in terms of their cultural context and their performance history. Shakespeare is rightfully famous for adapting dramatic conventions to suit his own goals as a writer, and for taking creative liberties with his classical and European source materials. This course treats his plays both as independent works and as innovative scripts that challenged generic boundaries and reshaped the medium of the public theater itself. In this sense it represents a break from approaches to Shakespeare that focus entirely on language and character development. We will also consider modern productions and interpretations of Shakespeare as we discuss the interplay between contemporary American culture and these 400 year-old scripts. Active class participation is required. Students will also be expected to prepare short writing assignments and at least one oral presentation during the course of the semester. There will be a final exam.