Engl 2183

BAC 204
T, Th 3:00 - 4:30
Prof. Richard Cunningham
Off. Hours: T, Th 9:00- 10:00
Office: BAC 431

Course Description

In this course we will study of selected plays by Shakespeare from each of the traditional genres—tragedy, comedy, history, and romance. Topics of interest to study of any Shakespearean play include language, performance, characterization, genre, and politics. Under the broader heading of ‘politics’ we will consider relationships of gender and of class, but also history as it is used to construct stage-worlds, Shakepeare’s world, and our world. I have chosen five plays for you to read, each for a particular reason, as noted below.

Class preparation: You are to have finished reading each play by the first day on which it appears in the schedule. You must bring a copy of the relevant play to every class meeting.

Incomplete course work: Be aware that the university calendar stipulates that no credit is given for a course unless all requirements for it have been met.


Any reasonable edition with line numbers and divisions into acts and scenes of any of the following plays will be acceptable. Inexpensive copies of individual plays can be found in most secondhand bookstores, or on-line.

The “official” texts for the class can be found at http://opensourceshakespeare.org, or downloaded from the links provided below.

Sept. 13 – 22 we’ll discuss one of Shakespeare’s most often read history plays, The History of Henry IV, part 1. We’ll study this play because it is a history play and history plays were an important and popular genre in the period, but also because it offers us opportunities to consider the use of propaganda in popular media, gender roles and relationships, and the structural element of the sub-plot. You can download a pdf version of the Open Source Shakespeare text (itself based on a 19th-century edition), here.

Sept. 27 - Oct. 6 we'll concentrate our energies on the comedy Twelfth Night, or What You Will because it is a comedy, and because it offers a great opportunity to discuss gender roles on-stage and in the early modern professional theatre community, as well as being itself something of a metacommentary on women's roles and on social roles more generally. It also offers a prime example of one of Shakespeare's signature moves, the confusion of one or more character(s) for (an)other(s).

Oct. 11 There's no class on Thanksgiving.

Oct. 13 No class.

Oct. 18 - 27 we will investigate what might have been Shakespeare's least popular play, Antony & Cleopatra. After its initial performances, it was not staged again until John Dryden re-wrote it as All for love: or, The World Well Lost in 1678. In addition to offering us a chance to discuss a Shakespearean "failure," Antony & Cleopatra offers us a chance to discuss Orientalism, and the contrasting value systems of Antony's Rome and Cleopatra's Egypt. We should also discuss issues of staging, as this play seems likely to have needed all the machinery available on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe theatre.

Nov. 1 - 10 we'll read Hamlet because it remains one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, my own dislike for it notwithstanding, and because in addition to being a tragedy it is a particular kind of tragedy: the revenge tragedy. I am honestly baffled by people's respect for this particular play, and hope that by studying it together you can help me understand at least some of its appeal.

Nov. 15 - 24 we'll discuss post-colonialism and Shakespeare's The Tempest. To help with this we'll have a guest lead discussion on Nov. 15 and 17, someone much more familiar with post-colonial theory than I am. The play is likely to help spark discussion on love and partnership, too, given that it is representative of the romance genre. But that is actually barely part of what "romance" means as a generic classification. Another word that helps flesh out the meaning of "romance" is "fantasy." The Tempest has a mythical setting, inspired by the discovery of the New World, and as such can be seen as an example of what such discovery might have inspired in the imagination of the English during the period.

Nov. 29 Review and overflow

Dec. 1 Exam setting