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Shakespeare’s Art, Life, and Times

ENGL 226.950
fulfills requirements:

(Fulfills the pre-1700 or pre-1900 Seminar Requirement in the English Major. Also fulfills elective credit in the Theatre Arts major or Theatre Arts minor.)


Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of the reconstructed Globe theater company, has said that,  “we are all modern Elizabethans.”  This course is designed to investigate just what that means by examining Shakespeare’s plays, to the extent we are able, as they would have been performed at the Globe before and after the turn of the 17th Century, and as they continue to be produced today.  The course will begin by investigating the social, cultural, and theatrical conditions that shaped Elizabethan London and examine Shakespeare’s plays as he wrote them and had them professionally produced at the Globe theater on the south bank of the Thames.  We will discuss the plays that will be performed this summer at the Globe, placing particular emphasis on them as works to be spoken, acted, and staged before a live audience.  This course is not in any way an attempt to historically reconstruct the Elizabethan theatre or to rediscover an “authentic” Shakespeare.  The Globe is a laboratory for investigating the very live and dynamic relationship among the theater, the plays, the performers and their audience.  If possible, this course will also examine one of Shakespeare’s plays that will be staged this summer under contemporary theatre conditions, perhaps in a radically reconceived theatrical form.  Our purpose will not be to set one approach to performing Shakespeare against another, but to expand our understanding of how his plays can remain as alive for us today, as “modern Elizabethans,” as they were for a London audience four hundred years ago.  Course work will include readings on the historical background of Elizabethan London and its theatre; the examination of three or four plays and an investigation of them in live performance; field trips; and a final 15-20 page essay due at the start of the fall semester.