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Shakespeare and Empire

ENGL 231.301
instructor(s):
MW 3:30-5
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

The novelist Michelle Cliff writes that she ‘studied the Renaissance without dealing with the fact that the slave trade began in the Renaissance and that there were slaves in Europe even as Michelangelo was painting the Sistine ceiling. I was not even aware of it’. Shakespeare was writing his plays at a time when Europe was beginning to establish imperial networks that would eventually involve 90% of the world.  Shakespeare’s work was shaped by, and themselves commented on, these networks. That is why all over the world people have found his plays important in thinking about nationhood, empire, race and colonialism. As we read Shakespeare together, we will chart how thinking about these issues changed or was debated in Shakespeare’s times. We will also consider the ‘empire of Shakespeare’ or the ways in which Shakespeare was taught or used in different parts of the world.  The course will have three components: first, reading and discussion of a Shakespeare play or another text with close attention to its literary and performative qualities. Second, establishing contextual value to the play, and seeing how it interacted with the society in which it was produced. Third, discussion of pertinent readings in modern historical and political criticism to see how the text might have circulated afterwards in a colonial or post-colonial world. This seminar will ask you to be a close reader of Shakespeare’s work, as well as of historical and critical materials. It begins from the premise that Shakespeare’s work cannot be understood without paying attention to the world in which was created, and also the worlds in which it has circulated.

Course requirements will include regular attendance and participation in seminar discussions, two class presentations, one mid-term paper and one end of semester research paper.