Return to Daniel Traister's home page.
Send Daniel Traister an e-mail message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Send mail to the class at email@example.com: to subscribe to the class list, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org; leave the subject line EMPTY; write subscribe traister235 and do NOT add your name to that message.
In this class, we will read six plays by Shakespeare. We will also read some of their sources and analogues, as well as a few classic commentaries about them from earlier in this century, primarily from the period of the "New Criticism." We will ask, first, what it was that these older critical approaches did well and, second, what they either did not do well or did not consider that, today, we might have wanted or expected them to do or to look at. We will also discuss some examples of more recent approaches to these Shakespearian works, considering some of the questions upon which such newer approaches are based.
The plays we will read are the tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth; the comedies The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream; the romance The Tempest; and the history play Richard II. Students should expect that this class will offer neither an "introduction to" nor anything even remotely resembling a "comprehensive view" of Shakespeare. It assumes that participants are already familiar with a substantial part of his work and have the ability to handle the language difficulties any careful reading of Shakespearian texts requires. Some plays exist in different versions (e.g., there are three different texts of Hamlet). Students should be prepared to find, and then to read and analyze, different versions of plays when these exist.
This class requires close attention to scholarship and criticism about Shakespeare and his works. The instructor will provide some more or less representative examples of earlier critical approaches to the plays. Students should ideally explore the secondary literature on their own to discover, introduce, and defend the usefulness of recent examples of critical approaches to the plays, but the instructor will make a few specific suggestions of works he thinks worth your attention.
This course HEAVILY EMPHASIZES classroom discussion. Other requirements include two short papers (3-5 pages), due at the end of the fourth and eighth weeks of the class, and one long final paper (10-15 pages), due at our last meeting. The course does not include a final examination.
If the opportunity presents itself to see live productions of Shakespeare's plays--whether those assigned for this class or others--during the summer (for example, in New York's Central Park), the instructor will try to arrange class trips to see them. Schedules seen thus far--for Washington, DC; Madison, New Jersey; Allentown, PA; and Central Park--include none of the plays we will be reading. Only A Midsummer Night's Dream, presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York in a production scheduled to end on May 26th, seems likely to permit us to see a live, professional production of one of the plays we are reading for this course.
This course meets on Tuedsdays and Thursdays from 6:00 P.M. to 7:45 P.M. in the Henry Charles Lea Library on the 6th floor of Penn's Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We may occasionally reschedule or relocate in order to accommodate the showing of movies or tapes.
NOTE: The first scheduled class (Tuesday, May 21) WILL be held despite commencement exercises earlier that day.The instructor's office is in the Department of Special Collections, also on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. You can reach him by telephone (215 898 7088) or in person at that location. He is normally in the office between 9 and 5 weekdays, but please telephone before showing up.
You can also call him at home (215 885 1083) before 10 P.M. or reach him by e-mail, directly at
or through the class e-list at
To subscribe to the class list, send a message to email@example.com; leave its subject line blank; write subscribe traister235 (i.e., with no space between "traister" and "235" and without adding your name).
PAPERS: Topics for the first and second (short) papers are assigned and appear below (in the weekly schedule). The final (long) paper topic is left to your choice; but it must be determined in consultation with the instructor.
Follow MLA or Chicago format rules in preparing all essays. Death (preferably yours) is the only acceptable excuse for lateness. In general, the instructor appreciates good writing. He looks with extreme disfavor upon poorly-written essays. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking. SEEK ASSISTANCE FROM THE WRITING CENTER IF THIS IS AN AREA IN WHICH YOU KNOW--OR LEARN--THAT YOU NEED HELP.
This class will work largely through discussion (and, more rarely, lectures); hence the emphasis, above, on classroom discussion. Since your attendance and participation will largely determine the success or failure of this course, both attendance and participation will affect your grade significantly.
Ground rules: talk; interrupt; open your mouths. Be polite. Do not let politeness prevent you from making your points.
USE THE CLASS E-LIST AS AN ARENA FOR INFORMAL DISCUSSION, WITH YOURSELVES AND WITH THE INSTRUCTOR, outside THE CONFINES OF THE CLASSROOM ITSELF. THIS INFORMALITY IS WHAT THE E-LIST EXISTS TO PROMOTE.
Questions about paper topics--which may be of general interest--as well as comments, questions, responses (pro or con) concerning the plays and critics we read, see, and discuss: all are fine topics for the list. Ditto arrangements for travel to see plays in performance, should we be able to make such trips, or for appointments with the instructor.
Critical and supplementary works will be available either in the Furness Memorial (Shakespeare) Library, on the 6th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, or through photocopies distributed in class.
Required textbooks are available at the Penn Book Center, 3726 Walnut Street. ALL plays have been ordered in the Arden 2/New Arden editions. Some of you will have other texts already, of course, but the Arden texts include considerable commentary and annotation and for this reason the instructor hopes that you will use them. They will give each of us a common starting point for the ways in which we think about the plays we read, see, and discuss.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Taming of the Shrew
QUICKLY familiarize yourselves with the resources of the Furness Memorial (Shakespeare) Library on the 6th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, one of the best and most accessible resources for students of Shakespeare anywhere in the country.
Histories;these, and an enormous variety of other aids to the reading and study of Shakespeare, all can be found in the Furness Library. Videotapes of staged and televised performances (for example, the BBC series) and recorded readings of Shakespeare's plays can also be found on campus (tapes are found at MMETS--Multi-Media Education and Technology Services--in the basement of the David Rittenhouse Laboratory, open during the summer Mondays through Fridays from 9 A.M.-7 P.M.).
basic reference works, including dictionaries and encyclopedias;
editions old and new of works by Shakespeare and works by his contemporaries, predecessors, and followers;
scholarly works old and new, and in many different languages as well as in English;
translations into non-English languages (German, French, Russian, Swahili, Japanese, among many others);
resources for the study of Shakespearian production history and adaptations:
If you have never read E. M. W. Tillyard's extremely interesting (and blessedly short) book called The Elizabethan World Picture, please do so. It is available in many copies in the Library. It is also available as an inexpensive paperback and should be easy to find at larger local bookstores. Its date to the contrary notwithstanding, this is a book you may want to own.
Enthusiasts or others on whose hands time lies heavily during these languid Philadelphia summer days may also want to read a brief biography of Shakespeare--Samuel Schoenbaum's compact documentary life comes to mind. A brief history of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England might also be useful; zillions exist, some even good. Histories of recent criticism, especially the "new Criticism," also abound; you can probably find one that will not harm you. A different approach might be to read Frederick Crews, The Pooh Perplex: A Freshman Casebook (New York: Dutton, 1963). By now an old joke, it's still a pretty good one.
READ: A Midsummer Night's DreamClass 1--Introduction to the course
David Young, Something of Great Constancy: The Art of A Midsummer Night's Dream (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966).
Terence Hawkes, "Or," in Meaning by Shakespeare (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 11-41.
If you can find it (my copy arrived 5/23/96): Louis Adrian Montrose, The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), Part 2, pp. 109-211
READ: Madelon Sprengnether, "Mourning Shakespeare: My Own Private Hamlet," in Confessions of the Critics, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 17-28. This short essay is "out of order"--Hamlet comes later in the course--but Sprengnether nicely (and very briefly) sets up several of the questions this course will consider.
Class 2--MND, discussionNOTE: The Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is currently playing in New York City at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater (205 West 46th Street, just west of Broadway). The play is scheduled to close on Sunday, May 26. Students are encouraged to try to see it over the Memorial Day weekend.
Class 3--MND, discussion
Class 4--MND, discussion
READ: The Taming of the ShrewClass 5--Shrew, discussion
The Taming of a Shrew (many editions--e.g., Narrative and Dramatic Sources . . . , ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 1; the Malone Society reprint; others)
Ann Barton, "Introduction," The Taming of the Shrew, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), pp. 106-109.
Marianne Novy, "Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew," in Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), chap. 3, pp. 45-62
Lynda E. Boose, "Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member," Shakespeare Quarterly, 42 (1991), 179-213 (and reprinted, e.g., in Materialist Shakespeare: A History, ed. Ivo Kamps [London: Verso, 1995], pp. 239-279)
Class 6--Shrew, discussion
Class 7--Shrew, discussion
Class 8--Shrew, discussion
SHORT PAPER # 1 is due today: TOPIC:
"These plays are comedies. To consider their attitudes towards women as if this were a factor that might affect our reading of these plays--as if these attitudes could be defined in any event, let alone identified as their author's--is to deform our understanding of the plays: it does violence to the nature of the comic genre, to a proper historical approach to older literature in general, and to their author. It imposes what we might call standards of "literary correctness"--"standards" that simply have no place in the ways we approach classic works of art."
Discuss this proposition, with specific references to the plays and the critics we have read.
READ: Richard IIClass 9--R2, discussion
M. M. Mahood, "Richard II," in Shakespeare's Wordplay (London: Methuen, 1957), and often reprinted (e.g., in the Twentieth-Century Views volume on R2 that contains a number of other older "classics" of R2 criticism also worth your attention)
Phyllis Rackin, "Anachronism and Nostalgia," in Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 86-145 (a brief section of this chapter deals specifically with R2; I recommend the entire chapter, and the book's index will lead you to additional material about this play--but, if you are unfamiliar with the histories, then the section alone may be sufficient for you, even though you will miss a lot of its context)
Class 10--R2, discussion
Class 11--R2, discussion
Class 12--R2, discussion
READ: MacbethClass 13--Macb., discussion
Cleanth Brooks, "The Naked Babe and the Cloak of Manliness," in The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt, 1947), chap. 2 (and often reprinted)
L. C. Knights, "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" (originally 1933; often reprinted)
Alan Sinfield, "When is a Character Not a Character? Desdemona, Olivia, Lady Macbeth, and Subjectivity," pp. 52-79, and "Macbeth: History, Ideology, and Intellectuals," pp. 95-108, in Faultlines: Cultural Materialsm and the Politics of Dissident Reading (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)
Class 14--[July 4--NO CLASS MEETING]
Class 15--Macb., discussion
Class 16--Macb., discussion
SHORT PAPER # 2 is due today: TOPIC: Some of Shakespeare's sources for Richard II and Macbeth are historical books--the same historical books. Both plays deal with episodes from "British" history (English; Scottish). Both plays centrally concern themselves with royal persons and their errors. One, nonetheless, is a "history play," the other a "tragedy." Presumably, this segregation of what might otherwise have appeared to be two likes into two separate and distinct interpretive categories--a segregation that is at least as old as the First Folio--serves a useful heuristic function. But what might that function be? is it still "useful"? and why might we want to ask this question at all?
READ: Hamlet (Arden edition) AND Q1 (photocopy to be distributed); Q2; F1 (versions available in general stacks as well as in Furness)Class 17--Ham., discussion
Maynard Mack, "The World of Hamlet" (often reprinted)
Steven Urkowitz, "'Well-sayd olde Mole': Burying Three Hamlets in Modern Editions," in Shakespeare Study Today: The Horace Howard Furness Memorial Lectures, ed. Georgianna Ziegler (New York: AMS Press, 1986), pp. 37-70
Terence Hawkes, "Telmah," in That Shakespeherian Rag (London: Methuen, 1986), chap. 5
Class 18--Ham., discussion
Class 19--Ham., discussion
Class 20--Ham., discussion
READ: The TempestClass 21--Temp., discussion
Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965)
Barbara Howard Traister, "Prospero: Master of Self-Knowledge," in Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in Renaissance Drama (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983), chap. 6, pp. 125-149
Thomas Cartelli, "Prospero in Africa: The Tempest as colonialist text and pretext," in Shakespeare Reproduced: The text in history and ideology, ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O'Connor (New York: Methuen, 1987), pp. 99-115
Stephen J. Greenblatt, "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century," in Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 16-39
Kim F. Hall, "'Commerce and Intercourse': Dramas of Alliance and Trade," in Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), pp. 123-176
Class 22--Temp., discussion
Class 23--Temp., discussion
Class 24--Temp., discussion; conclusion of course
FINAL PAPER (topic to be determined in consultation with the instructor) is due today.
send Traister e-mail concerning this page at
You can send Traister e-mail concerning this page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return to Daniel Traister's
Return to Daniel Traister's Home Page.