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Gender, Sex, Shakespeare

ENGL 200.305
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major

This course considers several of Shakespeare’s plays alongside a critical discussion of gender and sexuality. Turning to gender theory for some key terms and analysis of issues, we will read Shakespeare for depictions of desire and power in intimate relationships. Sex and sexuality were central issues in Renaissance England, and Renaissance drama had its own ideas about gender performance as much as it did about theatrical performance. On stage, only boys could play women characters while men played men of all classes and ethnicities. Cross dressing and class-passing were realities of Shakespeare’s stage, and the texts of the plays frequently comment on social transgression through the language of love. We will consider how love lays bare the inequities within both same-gender and cross-gender unions, and we will ask what counts as coercion, consent, or coyness given the power dynamics at work. We will read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Measure for Measure, and a range of background materials to enrich our discussions. No prior experience with Shakespeare or gender theory is necessary.

The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that literary studies demands. This includes working with primary sources and archival materials. We will make several trips to the Kislak Center in Van Pelt Library to consider the material culture through which the Shakespeare’s plays emerged. We will practice reading critical and theoretical materials and describing the debates that surround our objects of study. Use of online tools, databases like Early English Books Online (EEBO), and computational experiments will help illuminate additional aspects of Renaissance culture. Intensive analysis of keywords will be an important part of the semester, as will research exercises that culminate in a final project. Students will design independent research agendas that will develop into either a creative final project or a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages.