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Shakespeare and Company

ENGL 430.640

   The recent film Anonymous dramatizes the spurious theory that William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him. But while this theory has no basis in fact, there is a kernel of truth in it: Shakespeare did not, in fact, write “his” plays entirely by himself. He actively collaborated with other playwrights on some of his plays (standard practice in the theater of the time), and others of his plays were inspired by the plays of his rivals at nearby theaters or drew on the same sources as these other plays. The Bard was not a solitary genius; he was joined by a host of other great playwrights in one of the most exciting periods of English literary and theatrical history. As numerous theaters suddenly popped up around London in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the stages were filled with tragedies, comedies, histories, romances, and tragicomedies. This course will study some of Shakespeare’s plays alongside those of his rivals, influences, followers, and collaborators. We will read The Merchant of Venice together with Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta; The Tempest with John Fletcher’s The Sea Voyage; The Taming of the Shrew with Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed; Hamlet and Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy. The course will be interdisciplinary in approach, drawing on literary-critical techniques to analyze the structure, language, and genres of the plays; on theater history and performance studies to consider the influence of the playing companies that performed them, their repertories, and theatrical spaces; and on new historical approaches to situate the plays in relation to the pressing issues and questions of the time. No previous experience with Shakespeare or Renaissance drama is presupposed. Several short research exercises; one class presentation; and a final research paper will be required.

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