In this course we will study nine plays by Shakespeare and attempt to situate these plays within their sociohistorical context, asking not only how they are shaped by that context but how the plays themselves exert a shaping influence through the cultural work they perform. In particular, we will ask how Shakespeare's plays situate themselves within debates about existing and emergent categories of identity pertaining to gender, nation, and race. The plays will include a sampling of comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances--perhaps including The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest--but we will also be interrogating the extent to which these generic distinctions and various other critical categories used in the study of Shakespeare are anachronistic, that is, the products of subsequent centuries.
Students will be asked to read various short critical essays and will be responsible for making a presentation to the class on one such piece. We will also, when possible, be viewing recent film versions of one or two of these plays, which will be the basis of brief film reviews. Other requirements include active class participation, short writing responses on assigned questions and two five-page essays.