A course for Penn
offered under the auspices of the Office of Alumni
Office: Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Phone: 215 898 7088 / Fax: 215 573
E-mail to Traister: email@example.com
to the Class List: TO COME
The class's "live"
version of this syllabus requires registration and log-in for
anyone wanting to access it.
These days, in addition to whatever
else he may be, Shakespeare is also news.
Shakespeare in Love, Oscar-winner as "best picture" this past
spring, is only one of many recent films to represent his plays or concern
aspects of his life and times. Theaters in the United Kingdom and the
United States -- and across most of the world, for that matter --
constantly produce his plays. Students all over the world read him.
Perhaps surprisingly, some continue to read and see him after they've
stopped being students, for (dare one say it?) "pleasure."
Not surprisingly, Shakespeare has become a chip in current battles
about what "education" is all about and what students ought to be taught.
When Georgetown University stopped requiring a Shakespeare course for its
English majors, cultural critics decried the move as one more sign of the
collapse of civilization. Even academic argument about Shakespeare has
taken at least a baby step or two outside the academy and become of
apparent interest to a broader range of the public than has recently
seemed the norm.
Harold Bloom's recent (1998) book,
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, for example, has attracted
considerable attention -- and debate. A. D.
Nuttall finds the work "magnificent" and "breathtaking": Samuel
"Johnson is invoked as presiding genius of . . . [Bloom's] book because he
praised Shakespeare for the diversity of persons represented. The common
reader calls this skill in characterization -- a term avoided by the
literary intelligentsia but fearlessly reaffirmed by Bloom. I rejoice to
concur" (Nuttall in Raritan, 18:3 [Winter 1999], 123-134). Terence Hawkes finds Bloom's book nearly
beneath contempt: "the spirit of A C Bradley, dread author of
Shakespearean Tragedy (1904) and now risen, clanking from the
grave, . . . beckon[s] his princely successor on"; but "the dominant mode
of art" inherited by Shakespeare's plays, a mode "to which they offered a
complex response, was less representational than emblematic or symbolic.
That's one reason why they were written in verse" (Hawkes in The New
Statesman [12 March 1999], 45-46). This attention, these arguments in
the press, and the popularity of Bloom's book (it even hit the New York
Times bestseller list briefly, not the fate of the ordinary
"academic" book), all accord with many other signs to indicate that interest in
William Shakespeare continues high nearly four hundred years after his
What keeps him alive? and why the current fuss? -- or, if you prefer,
the current interest? Is he a guide to "character"? Do his innards
show in his plays, as if he were a romantic writer revealing to us his
"invention" -- à la mode de Bloom -- of "the human"? Does he deal
with the private inner worlds of people, presenting his characters as
"emoters," or does he deal with their public and political roles, as
"actors"? Do his plays "effuse," emerging from some profound inner
turmoil, or do they reflect a craftsmanlike attention to dramatic
construction, sometimes on principles we no longer share? Do they even,
perhaps, provide evidence, now and again, of second thoughts, revisions?
Are his plays all "great"?
No course can "answer" these questions. Perhaps none should even try.
Yet raising them can be a provocative way of considering not only
Shakespeare, usually worth a good long look in his own right, but also
such additional issues as how we read "literature" and what we read
it for. I hope that this class will provide an opportunity for
discussion of both questions, and other related ones as they arise.
We will read three plays by Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice,
Hamlet, and King Lear. We will also read some of their
sources and analogues, a few classic commentaries about them, and some
later versions of the stories they tell. With respect to Hamlet and
Lear, we will take advantage of a resource now available on the Web
to look at the evidence for revision, for rethinking, for second thoughts,
that some of Shakespeare's most highly-regarded plays preserve, and to
think a bit about what such tinkering may suggest about the processes he
used in creating the works that writers like Bloom, Nuttall, and Hawkes
disagree so much about, although all of them nonetheless value them
As you may have begun to notice already, I write syllabi that are very
detailed -- over-detailed -- about the courses I teach. No one has
to take this class who doesn't want to take it. If you do take it,
however, you should know what you're in for.
This course by its nature will HEAVILY
EMPHASIZE discussion. The purpose of the course is not grades but
general, continuing education -- and, the instructor piously hopes,
, too. I fear that "fun" may be the dirtiest word
in the academy -- and am profoundly convinced that it shouldn't be. This
course simply won't work if you don't come prepared to write comments and
questions to the class, if you don't, that is, regard discussion,
argument, and disagreement, as well as consensus, as forms of indoor
- AN ABSOLUTE SINE QUA NON IS YOUR COMFORT IN USING
- Also necessary: in order to get the most out
of the online texts, you should be comfortable reading and printing out as
necessary from texts, some in HTML and others in PDF format, some simply
printable, some requiring your computer to be Adobe- (or other- ?) reader
equipped. Some of you may need to download a reader; instructions for
doing so are found at most websites, including the Penn Library site where
the online texts we use are found.
- You may also need to download
RealAudio or some other devices to permit you to see and hear talking
heads or film clips.
- It ought to go without saying -- but I will say
it anyway -- that you must be willing to do the reading in order to
respond to weekly discussions. I distinguish (in the syllabus below)
between reading that's necessary, reading that would be helpful, and
reading that, if you can get to it, will make you a more learned
discussant (if not a better human being). But the
necessary reading is necessary.
- Everyone needs
to agree from the get-go that we will, all of us, encourage and
appreciate any and all questions, especially the ones that you are afraid
to ask because they seem too stupid. In the context of this class, the only stupid questions are the ones you DON'T
The more of the "helpful" and "recommended"
reading you can manage to do on top of the "required" reading, the
more able you will be not only to ask more interesting and respond to more
difficult questions but also to talk down to the instructor from A Great
- Alas, I can quite confidently promise that I myself
will occasionally provide stupid answers. I promise to try
to keep these to a decent minimum.
- You must be prepared for
disagreement as well as for agreement, not only with and from me --
my patent on truth has run out -- but also with and from each
- On the other hand, disagreements cannot be
personalized or insulting. Reasonable people can, reasonable people do,
disagree about Shakespeare without sticking shivs, real or metaphorical,
into one another. Bloom, Nuttall, and Hawkes are among the most
distinguished literary critics and Shakespearian scholars alive. They do
not think about Shakespeare in ways that resemble one another at all. They
do speak with one another "politely" as well as "learnedly," while
disagreeing with each other, within the rules of professional
- I urgently recommend that, if the opportunity
presents itself to see live productions of any of Shakespeare's
plays wherever you are located, you will seize such an opportunity.
In addition, you should (a) inform the class about it, in case others who
live nearby can also benefit, and (b) report back -- critically,
enthusiastically, or any shade in between -- on what you've seen.
Shakespeare wrote for the theater, not for the study. If he can be
profitably read -- and, of course, he can be -- he can, perhaps
more profitably, also be seen. And should be.
- For the three
plays that form the core of this class, I hope you will all rent
videotapes of available performances. Film clips are fun; they are not the
same as the whole ball of wax, the gestalt, the poor forked beast
in its entirety. Several, of course, are widely available: Olivier,
Jacobi, Gibson, and Branagh spring immediately to mind for Hamlet
alone. Watch them carefully -- and critically.
- Discussion questions
follow the readings, below, for each week of the class. I intend these questions to be guides
only! If you have a different question, if you have
many different questions, ask it -- or them. If you don't like the
questions below, or those posed by others in the class, post
This course will "meet" in virtual space on an electronic list to which
all registered students will have access. I will monitor this list as
constantly as possible, posing questions, responding to questions,
responding to comments, and so forth. All mail addressed to the list will
be seen by everyone in the class. You can, however, write to me
off-line at firstname.lastname@example.org, my
e-mail address. I will not re-post your private messages to me to
the entire list without your express consent. I can also be reached by
phone at 215 898 7088 between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. (eastern time zone, USA).
My fax number there (at my Penn office) is 215 573 9079. My website is http://www.english.upenn.edu/~traister/.
This format --
an electronic list -- means that class communications can take place
twenty-four hours a day: the list is always open. But all of you
have work and lives; somewhat astonishingly, so do I. We should not expect
instant responses either from me or from one another. This class is
not a chat-room; it is a course. Time for reflection,
consideration, and consultation of sources before firing back
responses might prove to be of value. Ease of communication is one of the
great virtues that this new technology affords us. Speed of
communication is, contrastingly, not always a virtue; and, in this
case, it might even seem worth deliberately trying to evade. Shakespeare
is going nowhere; he's in no hurry. The list is up for a semester; it's in
no hurry, either. And coming as we do from different time zones, some of
us may be sleeping while others are having exciting thoughts. Patience
while others are thinking, sleeping, or just living their lives is to be
However, our technical people tell me that we do have
capabilities that will allow for occasional chat-room sessions. Depending
on your schedules and interest, and my schedule, we can -- and therefore
may well -- set up a few real-time chat sessions during the
As the semester progresses, we may
decide to "thread" our discussions -- organizing them, that is, by
topic. FOR THE TIME BEING, however, I want our discussions to be
general. Precise subject headings -- for example, "Hamlet's
madness" -- will always be preferable to general ones -- for
AN EARNEST PLEA: If vacations, family
emergencies, holidays, or anything else must take you off-list for a
while, please do let me know! As we get to know one another, even
virtually, an absent voice will become as noticeable as a present
one. People will worry about you!
- Many of you probably still have one-volume editions of
Shakespeare's plays from your student days. From most points of view,
these are likely to suffice. That said, I nonetheless strongly
recommend that you acquire a modern edition,
The Norton Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt,
general editor (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997)
edition should be readily available at, e.g.. Borders or Barnes & Noble;
it is also available -- and at some discount -- online, as are many of the
other books mentioned below. ACSES
permits you to compare prices from a large assortment of online
"Strongly recommends" does NOT mean "requires."
That granted, I nonetheless strongly recommend The Norton
Shakespeare because, unlike older one-volume editions, it ordinarily
uses the most recent discoveries about the text of Shakespeare in
printing its versions of the plays -- most notably, for our purposes, with
respect to Lear. As you will see, this point matters to us, for
Shakespeare's text is in a state of some flux as scholars increasingly
come to understand the conditions under which it was originally created.
Looking at variations between versions -- some of them enormous -- will be
one of the things this class is about.
- The First
Quarto of Hamlet, ed. Kathleen O. Irace (Cambridge University Press,
1998) -- paperback
- Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, ed.
James Siemon, 2nd ed., New Mermaid Series (W. W. Norton, 1995) --
Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus & Other
Plays, ed. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, World's Classics (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1998) -- paperback
I very highly
recommend the books listed below because they provide useful background
about the period or about the man. They are all easy to read, that is,
generally free of jargon. They are not perfect, not versions of the
gospel. Anyone who expects them to provide "the truth" about the period or
the man is advised to speak (off-line) with me about why that expectation
might be misplaced. On the other hand, they are -- except for Honan's new
book -- all old standards. Several generations of students have used them
without incurring, usually, severe damage. They are useful as ways
to start thinking about a period that was in many important ways
not like our own times at all. They offer historical and
biographical starting points for students who feel such starting points
might be helpful: no more, and no less.E. M. W.
Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (1944; reprinted as a
C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image
(1964; reprinted as a Cambridge University Press paperback)Julia
Briggs, This Stage-Play World: Texts and Contexts, 1580-1625, 2nd
ed. (Oxford University Press, 1997) -- paperback
William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, rev. ed. (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1987) -- paperback; old and now
NOTE: Briggs has gone out
of stock at its publisher. If you can find a copy, it remains well worth
reading. Assignments from it have, however, been
Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1998) -- hardbound; new and untestedSee
also Maggie Secara's Compendium of Common
Knowledge 1558-1603: Elizabethan Commonplaces for Writers, Actors, and
Re-enactors; andsome of the other background information
sources to be found on my history page
RECOMMENDED ONLINE TEXTS
addition, the resources of Penn's Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text &
Image (Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Van Pelt-Dietrich
Library) allow you access to several
online versions of Shakespeare's (and related) texts. Some of these
texts will be required reading. I will always specify when
that is so.
A special password-protected site also allows you access to some
out-of-print primary and secondary materials (both
original texts and works of scholarship and criticism). I have put these
online for the exclusive use of students in this class. Passwords will be
distributed when class sessions begin.
The single best resource for readers of English-language works is the
Oxford English Dictionary, available to Penn students through the
Library's website, as well as in its various printed forms. It is also
generally available as a multi-volume printed book, as a one-volume
microprint printed book, as a CD-ROM, and electronically. Oxford
University Press has a website with full
Weeks 1-4: INTRODUCTION; THE
MERCHANT OF VENICE
Week 1 -- Classes at Penn begin on Wednesday, September
Greenblatt, "General Introduction," The Norton Shakespeare, pp.
- Andrew Gurr, "The Shakespearean Stage," The Norton
Shakespeare, pp. 3281-3301
If you have decided
not to buy The Norton Shakespeare, you can still read these
two essays: it is a text that almost all larger libraries will have
The following books are listed as additions to
Greenblatt and Gurr, if you can possibly manage them -- and very
- Tillyard or Lewis,
- and Briggs, above, if you can find a copy
The discussion questions that follow are
intended to get us started speaking with one another generally about some
of the issues we'll be considering specifically during the weeks ahead
with plays in hand. You will find that such discussion questions
positively litter this syllabus week after week. Remember: they
are supposed to provide starting points, not end points. The class and I
both will welcome questions about other matters that occur to you as you
read the plays.
Before you do anything else, however, one
non-discussion -- non-"academic" -- question needs your
- For the benefit of the rest of this class and of
the instructor, tell all of us briefly who you are, when you were
at Penn, what you do now, and where you do it ( . . . and, if so moved,
why writing this reply has already made you feel that signing up for this
course might not have been the brightest idea you've had since
graduation!). You in your turn can find out much more about me than
you want or need to know at my website.
are the "academic" discussion questions promised
Week 2 -- September 13
- Greenblatt's introduction uses "fiction" as well as
"history" to place Shakespeare in his historical context. Does this
technique work? or does it bother you?
- What does it mean "to
place Shakespeare in his historical context"? and why should we want -- or
why might we not want -- to do so?
- From reading Greenblatt
and Gurr, can you begin to specify significant ways in which the later
Elizabethan and earlier Jacobean periods during which Shakespeare wrote
differ from our own? How much real "difference" do such
differences make -- or should those differences make -- in our
approach to his plays?
- Can similar questions, and similar doubts, be
raised with reference to the differences between Tudor and contemporary
theatrical and staging practices?
- One specific question about stage
practice: what might be the impact of having boys and men
playing the roles of girls and women?
If you can get a copy of it, an essay by Stephen Orgel is
useful here: "Nobody's Perfect: Or, Why Did the Elizabethan Stage Take
Boys for Men?" South Atlantic Quarterly, 88:1 (Winter 1989), 7-29.
In addition, an essay by Jean E. Howard, "Crossdressing, The Theatre, and
Gender Struggle in Early Modern England," Shakespeare Quarterly,
39:4 (Winter 1988), 418-440, is also worth your
- "If there was a single issue that dominated
the half-century from 1580," says Briggs (p. 136), "it was religion": and
if there is a single issue that matters less to
(most)(many)(all)(some)[choose one] of "us," it is religion.
Does that changed perspective matter? -- even if Briggs is right
about "the single issue," religion, that she suggests dominated English
life during Shakespeare's period?
THE MERCHANT OF
- The Comical History
of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice,
The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 1090-1144
- Katharine Eisaman Maus,
[introduction to The Merchant of Venice], The Norton
Shakespeare, pp. 1081-1089
- NOTE: You can see both the
1619 Second Quarto (its title-page lies and says "1600") and the
1623 First Folio versions of The Merchant in facsimile reproduction
of Penn's copies, both of them photographed from the Horace Howard Furness
Memorial Shakespeare Library), on the SCETI
website. You should be using an advanced browser to make full use of
this site: at least Netscape 3.0 or better.
- Among videotapes likely to be readily accessible is the
BBC Merchant; but any videotape of a production of The
Merchant you can find will be better than none.
Week 3 -- September 20
- This is a notoriously difficult play for modern
audiences, readers, and scholars to come to grips with. "If he had known
that Hitler was to come he might well have avoided making one of his most
frightening villains a Jew," Nuttall writes (p. 133;
this is at the very least a somewhat bizarre defense of this play,
surely?). Alan Sinfield, another contemporary Shakespeare scholar, simply
dismisses Merchant as "horrible" (not a word one expects to see a
Shakespearian using about one of the plays in the canon; but Sinfield does
so in Cultural Politics -- Queer Reading, a book published in
Philadelphia by some fly-by-night crowd calling itself the University of
Pennsylvania Press , p. 1). So let's start by asking the obvious
question: is Merchant an antisemitic play?
- And (less
obviously?), if it is, so what?
- Relatedly, is it a "horrible" play?
-- and, if so, how?
- And once again, if it is horrible, so
- What happens to Jessica as the play ends? Is she part of the
concluding action, or is she separate from it? How can you tell? And why
might it matter?
- What is Antonio's love interest in the play? Does
his love interest relate in any meaningful way to the conflicting thematic
clusters of "Jews/usury/breeding money" vs. "Christians/gifts/money does
not breed" that also bear on the question of the play's
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE,
- Christopher Marlowe,
The Jew of Venice
Shylock is by no means the only Jew to stalk the Elizabethan stage.
Christopher Marlowe is among the most powerful of Shakespeare's
predecessors also to have staged a Jewish villain. The Jew of Malta
is easy to find and purchase. A Norton edition (above) gives you the play;
for about three dollars more, the World's Classics edition (also above)
gives you several of Marlowe's other plays, as well. In either edition,
- NOTE:You might want to see
what The Jew of Malta looks like in the earliest surviving edition
(1633). Facsimiles of a copy the original of which is located at Lehigh
University are available on the SCETI
wesbite. You'll find it among the materials gathered at this site for
The Merchant of Venice.
Ajzenstat, "Contract in The Merchant of Venice," Philosophy and
Literature, 21:2 (October 1997), 262-278 (this article is
- Sigurd Burckhardt, "The Merchant of Venice:
The Gentle Bond," Shakespearean Meanings (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1968), pp. 206-289
- Will Fisher,
"Queer Money," ELH, 66:1 (Spring 1999) 1-23 (this article is
- Thomas H. Luxon, "A
Second Daniel: The Jew and the 'True Jew' in The Merchant of
Venice,: Early Modern Literary Studies, 4:3 (January 1999),
1-37 (this article is available online)
Marchitello, "(Dis)embodied Letters and The Merchant of Venice:
Writing, Editing, History," ELH, 62:2 (Summer 1995), 237-265
(this article is available online)
- Karen Newman, "Portia's Ring:
Unruly Women and the Structure of Exchange in The Merchant of
Venice," Shakespeare Quarterly, 38 (1987), 19-33
Sinfield, "How to read The Merchant of Venice without being
heterosexist," Alternative Shakespeares: Volume 2, ed. Terence
Hawkes (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 122-139
- James Shapiro,
Shakespeare and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press,
1996) -- paperback
Shapiro's book is
recommended for any of you who are especially curious about the topic of
antisemitism in Shakespeare's England and would like a good recent book
that deals with this and related
Week 4 -- September 27
- Marlowe's is undeniably a powerful play, yet it has
held the stage far less successfully than The Merchant. What
qualities does it have that Shakespeare lacks? What qualities does it lack
that Shakespeare's play has?
- Does reading Marlowe change your view
of the "antisemitism" of Shakespeare's play? This is not quite a
simple question: it might suggest, for example, that you think about how
pervasive antisemitism was in the culture out of which both Marlowe
and Shakespeare emerged; it might, instead, suggest that Marlowe's Jew is
far more one-dimensional a villain than Shakespeare's, and hence a more
loathesome portrait; and it might head you off in different directions
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE,
- A. R. Gurney, Jr.,
Overtime: A Modern Sequel to The Merchant of Venice (New York:
Dramatists Play Service, 1996)
- Mark Leiren-Young, Shylock: A
Play (Vancouver: Anvil Press, 1996)
- Arnold Wesker, The
Merchant, rev. ed. (London: Methuen, 1983)
Professor Cary Mazer reviews Wesker's own history of how this play fared
in its 1977 incarnation.
These plays may not all be easy to find. Local libraries may have them;
but, if you are curious to read them, you may do better to order them
early on -- paperbacks, all are likely to be inexpensive -- from a local
bookstore or from an online
- Gurney, Leiren-Young, and Wesker all try in differing
ways to come to grips with various questions that The Merchant of
Venice -- whether inadvertently or not -- raises. Why is Shakespeare's
play so fruitful a hunting ground for later dramatists?
- Why is it so
provocative a source for discussion among its readers and audiences, both
popular and scholarly?
- Is its discussion not only provocative
but also fruitful?
- Does discussion of Merchant reflect its
merits as a play, as "a work of literature"? or has discussion of this
play been warped by a twentieth-century history (the Holocaust) about
which Shakespeare could have known nothing?
Weeks 5-8: Hamlet
Week 5 -- October 4
- The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, The
Norton Shakespeare, pp. 1668-1756
- Stephen Greenblatt,
[introduction to Hamlet], The Norton Shakespeare, pp.
- The SCETI
webste offers access to various versions of Hamlet reproduced
from contemporary texts
- Francis Fergusson, "Hamlet, Prince of
Denmark: The Analogy of Action," The Idea of a Theater: A Study of
Ten Plays. The Art of Drama in Changing Perspective (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1949), chap. 4, pp. 98-142
Hawkes, "Telmah," That Shakespeherian Rag: Essays on a Critical
Process (London: Methuen, 1986), chap. 5, pp. 92-119
Mack, "The Jacobean Shakespeare: Some Observations on the Construction of
the Tragedies," Jacobean Theatre, ed. John Russell Brown and
Bernard Harris, Stratford-upon-Avon Studies, 1 (London: Edwin Arnold,
1960), pp. 10-41
- Maynard Mack, "The World of Hamlet," The
Yale Review, 41 (1952), 502-523 -- often reprinted
- Videotapes readily available of Hamlet will
include versions starring Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi, Mel Gibson, and
Kenneth Branagh -- among others. The more of these you can find time to
watch, the better, for perhaps nothing more clearly demonstrates the
instructive differences you can find between versions of "the same
play" than different performances of them. How Olivier plays the
closet scene, for example -- under the influence of
psychoanalytically-derived theories about Hamlet and his Oedipal love for
his mother, Gertrude -- is well worth contrasting with other
versions of this scene easy to see alongside his.
Week 6 -- October 11
- When I was a student in my first Shakespeare class,
Mack's beautifully-written essay on "The World of Hamlet" was the
cat's meow -- the last word on Hamlet. It's now almost fifty years
old. Does it still work as a way of (or as a help to) understanding the
play? How? Perhaps just as important, in what ways does it not
- Shakespeare's play Hamlet has come to have almost a
talismanic value. Our culture tends to a view of literature that
conventionally sets Shakespeare at its apex, alongside Homer, Virgil,
Dante, Goethe, and -- just maybe -- Joyce. Hamlet occupies a
similar sort of position at the apex of the works of Shakespeare himself.
There is this difference: as a writer, Shakespeare may have four (or
five?) "peers," but as a play Hamlet -- possibly excepting King
Lear? -- seems to have none. Why? What makes this play
- The character of its central character is usually cited
as one explanation of the play's astonishing appeal. His inability to
act -- to get on with it, to revenge his father's foul and
unnatural murder, as his father's ghost has explained it to him -- seems
to be the problem for which we look to a key in his "character." Do you
see this propensity for delay as a character problem? Why? or why not?
What else might it be?
- The First Quarto
of Hamlet, ed. Kathleen O. Irace (Cambridge University Press,
- Kathleen O. Irace, "Introduction"
- Louise D. Cary,
"Hamlet Recycled, or The Tragical History of the Prince's Prints,"
ELH, 61:4 (Winter 1994), 783-805 (this article is available
- Donald Foster, "A
Romance of Electronic Scholarship; with the True and Lamentable Tragedies
of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Part 1: The Words," Early Modern
Literary Studies, 3:3 / Special Issue 2 (January, 1998): 5:1-42
(this article is available online)
- Steven Urkowitz, "'Well-sayd olde
Mole': Burying Three Hamlets in Modern Editions," Shakespeare Study
Today: The Horace Howard Furness Memorial Lectures, ed. Georgianna
Ziegler (New York: AMS Press, 1986), pp. 37-70
- Steven Urkowitz,
"Back to Basics: Thinking about the Hamlet First Quarto,"
The Hamlet First Published (Q1, 1603): Origins, Form,
Intertextualities, ed. Thomas Clayton (Newark: University of Delaware
Press, 1992), pp. 257-291
Onviously, the other essays in Clayton's anthology would
also be relevant for any of you interested in the issues these multiple
texts of Shakespeare's plays
- Keep on with as many more filmed versions of
Hamlet as you can find (or stand!).
Week 7 -- October 18
- "He can't be serious! Why did he make
us read this hunk of junk?" -- Why indeed? Is it even a
play, let alone "Hamlet"? Does it work at all? Or is
it just a piece of accidentally-surviving badness which, had the cards
been dealt a different way, no one would ever have missed?
Let me be as
blunt as possible. The basic question here is: should anyone have wasted
your time (and, presumably, his own) by asking you -- us! -- to read,
think about, and discuss this . . . this . . . this
- "To be or not to be": here is an obvious place for
comparisons between the idiosyncratic First Quarto and familiar Second
Quarto/First Folio versions on a most specific, and therefore manageable,
body of words. Not with respect to the entire shmear, the gestalt,
as in the question immediately above, but instead with respect only to
this one speech, what can you say about the merits -- if any -- of
this First Quarto?
- Hamlet "puts on" an "antic disposition"
consciously, deliberately, calculatingly. So is he "mad"?
all "know" that Hamlet has a little Oedipal problem with Gertrude; in case
we didn't know it, Olivier's filmed version of the play surely makes it
clear. Is our "knowledge" "real knowledge" -- is it "true"?
- There is no
additional required reading this week. I hope that you will, however,
continue to consider not only the First Quarto, read last week, but also
the Second Quarto (the Third Quarto, which follows the Second, is
accessible online at
SCETI) and First Folio (also available at SCETI) versions, looking
especially at the differences between these three rather different
versions of Hamlet, and thinking about what such differences might
- There is no additional
recommended reading this week, unless people would like to continue with
some of the issues raised by the multiple-text plays. I will make
suggestions to anyone interested; if -- having read the syllabus in
advance, as you should do anyway -- the prospect of doing a bit more
secondary reading on this topic seems inviting, write to say so! An
electronic syllabus is at least as easy to revise as a paper
- Keep on with as many more
filmed versions of Hamlet as you can find (or
Does this example help to convince you that
revision ("re-vision," re-thinking, re-conceiving or
re-conceptualizing) is what is going on here? That is, that we
don't simply have to do with a "bad" First Quarto and uninstructive
differences between the Second Quarto and First Folio "versions" of this
play (which aren't really "versions," therefore, at all)? Can you find
any instances where anything similar seems to be going on that
significantly changes the ways the authors/revisers read (or
understood) the action between Q1, Q2, and F1?
Week 8 -- October 25
- Is Hamlet the
tragic tale of a dysfunctional man? a dysfunctional family?
or a dysfunctional society? How might these three different
possibilities be related to one another? and are they related to
one another? Why (in short) does Hamlet matter?
is an example from Professor Steven Urkowitz of how to think about the
impact of multiple texts with respect to
Ophelia's complicity seems to be one of the
issues that tickled the revisers moving from Q1 to Q2 HAMLET.
key moment, variant in the Q1 and Q2 texts that bears on Ophelia's
participation in her father's plotting. Immediately after the "To be or
not to be" soliloquy, in Q1 Ophelia speaks to Hamlet with great respect,
haltingly offering to return his gifts and letters. Hamlet reacts angrily
with harsh, derogatory questions, prompting Ophelia to respond in kind.
She begins amiably, deferentially. In contrast, the Q2 text has her begin
far more forcefully, while Hamlet initially is deferential. Both texts
move toward the same kinds of mutual incomprehension and rage. But in Q1,
at least as I read its dialogue, Ophelia gets swept into her father's
scheme. In Q2 she actively participates in its craft. A simple line count
at the opening section of this exchange shows Ophelia dominating the
moment, something like eleven lines to three for Hamlet compared to a
roughly equal number of lines for each in Q1. I have a recent essay from
the SAA [Shakespeare Association of America] 1999 Seminar on HAMLET stage
directions and stage action looking at the patterns of action at this part
of the play.
Variants in Ophelia's role through the play complicate her
relationships with Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, Gertrude and even the King.
Some of this is covered in my "Five Women Eleven Ways," in [Werner]
Habicht, et al., CHANGING IMAGES OF SHAKESPEARE (1988), and in
"Well-sayd old mole," in Zeigler, ed., SHAKESPEARE STUDY TODAY (1986)
[full reference above].
We don't get any easy view inside her head, but
what we do see in externally visible action grows more delicately
troubling as the play moves through revisions.SHAKSPER, 12 May
- There is no
additional required reading this week, except for -- choose any one of
them ( Q1,  Q2/3,  F1, or  the old familiar conflated
text) -- "Hamlet," which you should re-read. And see the
related (last) discussion question below.
- Tom Stoppard, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are
Dead (many versions)
- Tom Stoppard, Dogg's Hamlet
(originally in Dogg's Hamlet; Cahoot's Macbeth [London and Boston:
Faber and Faber, 1980]; now also in Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound
& Other Plays [New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1998]
- Ambroise Thomas, Hamlet -- this is an opera;
among available recordings is one on EMI Classics (#
- Keep on with as many
more filmed versions of Hamlet as you can find (or
- Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern is also available on
- One doesn't normally think of
Merchant and Hamlet together; yet the tragedy, like the
comedy, seems also to have been a fruitful hunting ground for later
- Those later playwrights whom we saw "playing" with
Merchant turned it variously into laughable comedy or into serious
meditation; the tragedy of Hamlet too turns out to be, perhaps
surprisingly, amenable to similarly diverse generic treatment (in fact, at
the hands of the same playwright, Tom Stappard). How come?
- Why did
you choose to re-read, for this last week on Hamlet, the particular
version you chose?
Weeks 9-13: King Lear
Week 9 -- November 1
- The History of King Lear [quarto version],
The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 2318-2472 [NOTE: You will read this
version of King Lear on the left-hand side of each opening
(that is, on the verso side of each leaf).]
- Stephen Greenblatt,
[introduction to King Lear], The Norton Shakespeare, pp.
- "Textual Variants: History," The Norton
Shakespeare, pp. 2474-2476
SCETI website offers access to various versions of King
Lear reproduced from contemporary texts
What follows is here ONLY for
those who are curious to pursue the issue of Shakespeare's texts a bit
more fully on their own. Urkowitz's book is available in paperback. The
Taylor-Warren anthology of essays you'll need to find in a library. The
specific essays I suggest, or any of the rest in the volume, can be dipped
into over the next few weeks as time, inclination, and availability
permit. Blayney's book is very long.
- Peter W.
M. Blayney, The Texts of King Lear and Their Origins
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) -- volume 1 only; volume 2
has not yet appeared
- Randall McLeod, "Gon. No more, the text
is foolish," in The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare's Two
Versions of King Lear, ed. Gary Taylor and Michael Warren, Oxford
Shakespeare Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp.
- Steven Urkowitz, "The Base Shall to th' Legitimate: The
Growth of an Editorial Tradition," in Taylor and Warren, pp.
- Steven Urkowitz, Shakespeare's Revision of King Lear
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980)
- Michael Warren, "The
Diminution of Kent," in Taylor and Warren, pp. 59-73
- Stanley Wells,
"Introduction: The Once and Future King Lear," in Taylor and
Warren, pp. 1-22
versions of King Lear ought to be readily available, including one
from the BBC; as with Hamlet, the more versions you can see, the
Week 10 -- November 8
- You've just read the quarto
version, not a conflated text of King Lear (a version, that is,
that draws together materials from both the quarto and folio versions of
the play). Since almost all of you have "had" Lear at one time or
another, whether in high school or in college, the play is not unfamiliar,
even if its details were not at your fingertips before this renewed
encounter with it. Can you sense that it is (or is not) different
in any way(s) from the Lear you remember? If so, how?
Hamlet, one question concerned whether the play is about the
person, his family, or the state. The same question can be asked about
Lear -- and should be.
- The History of King Lear [folio version], The
Norton Shakespeare, pp. 2319-2473 [NOTE: You will read this version
of King Lear on the right-hand side of each opening (that
is, on the recto side of each leaf).]
- "Textual Variants:
Tragedy," The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 2476-2478
- If so inclined, continue with the readings suggested
last week. Otherwise:
- Maynard Mack, King Lear in Our Time
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966)
- Keep on with as many more filmed versions of
Lear as you can find (or stand!).
Week 11 -- November 15
- You've just read the folio version, not a conflated
text of King Lear. Since almost all of you have "had" Lear
at one time or another, whether in high school or in college, the play is
not unfamiliar, even if its details were not at your fingertips before
last week's and this week's renewed encounters with it. Can you sense
that it is (or is not) different in any way(s) from the Lear
you remember? and from the quarto Lear of last week? If so,
- In his madness, Lear comes to dreadful realizations about the
nature and organization of human society. Does Shakespeare want his
audience to be as critical of society as Lear becomes? Is Lear a
"radical" play in its social critique? What difference does Lear's madness
make to the ways in which audiences think about the play's critique?
- King Lear [conflated text], The Norton
Shakespeare, pp. 2479-2453
- Maynard Mack, King Lear in Our Time (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1966) -- if you didn't get to it last
- Keep on with as many more
filmed versions of Lear as you can find (or
Week 12 -- November 22 --
Thanksgiving Week -- NO CLASS
Week 13 -- November 29
- This version of
Lear is the now traditional, old, familiar conflated version. Do
you find it (better than)(worse than)(no different from) the quarto or
folio Lears you have also read?
- Reading three different
versions of such a text as this one -- like reading several versions of
Hamlet -- may, no matter how "great" the work, seem a little bit
like an intellectualized version of water torture. The point of the
exercise, of course, is to suggest the problem of craft. "We" in
this century tend to read Shakespeare backwards through the haze (if it
is a haze) of romantic theories of inspired authorship. Differing
versions of texts such as these, however, present us with an alternative
possibility: a writer working, not under the influence of some grandly
romantic cosmic passion, but rather at a form whose successful rendering
poses him certain formal problems that, at different times, he solves in
Is this a satisfactory alternative way of
thinking about the meaning of these variant Lears (and the variant
Hamlets that preceded them)? If yes or no, why?
- Is it
a useful way of thinking about the nature of Shakespeare the
author? For instance, does it change the way(s) in which one might respond
to questions arising from Bloom's assertions concerning Shakespeare as
creator of characters, the individual, the "human," vs. Hawkes's
assertions about the emblematic and symbolic nature of his plays, written
as they were in verse?
- Mack's short study of Lear predates
any concern for the differing texts; it is based unselfconsciously on his
reading of a conflated Lear. Whether you liked or disliked his
approach to the play, does the current "out-datedness" of his scholarship
affect your reading of him?
- More specifically: Regan and Goneril
don't seem sprung from the same womb as Cordelia; neither do Edgar and
Edmund (and, of course, they are not products of the same
womb, though they share the same father). Clearly one issue central to
both of the play's major plots -- Lear's; Gloucester's -- is the
relationship of parents and children. What do we make of the "bad"
children in Lear? and of the "good" ones?
- If one thinks also
of how unusual in this play both Kent and his dutiful service to Lear
seem, then we may think that questions of service, loyalty, and duty in
the state conceived as a family are also issues. Does consideration of
these matters help you to "sum up" the play?
- Keep on with as many more filmed versions of
Lear as you can find (or stand!).
- Tate? Nahum Tate? How did this guy
sneak in here? and what did people think they were
And oh, yes: you are kidding about "held the stage
for more than a century," aren't you?
- Samuel Johnson, rather later
in the "neoclassical" period of which Tate was an early flower, found
Lear nearly unbearable. He meant this not as a literary judgment:
he had no doubts that Lear was one of the greatest moments in
English literature. But personally he found the play so difficult to read,
let alone to watch, that he could almost not bring himself to do so. "We"
find this response extreme.
Final week -- CONCLUSION
Week 14 -- December 6
This week, you find here
neither required nor recommended anything. Questions, comments, feedback,
thoughts, general summaries, specific nits, queries concerning undigested
or ill-digested materials from earlier in the class: anything at
all that you want to raise is up for grabs. Even, perhaps, queries or
comments about other plays by Mr. W.S. -- especially if they seem relevant
to the kinds of questions we've been asking, in the more "formal" weeks of
this course, about multiple texts and about what kinds of
"literature" their variety may suggest he was trying to write. And about
how critics and how we read -- Shakespeare or, for that matter,
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