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The seven plays chosen for this course illustrate Shakespeare's remarkable range and variety, focussing on his history plays and tragedies. They show the development of his art from the relatively early Romeo and Juliet to Antony and Cleopatra, one of the last of his tragedies; in all you will read two histories and five tragedies. Despite the broad range covered by these plays, you will discover how they are linked by common issues and dramatic techniques; at the same time, you will learn how Shakespeare's art developed during his career.
Module 1: Romeo and Juliet
Readings: Medieval and Elizabethan concepts of order; staging the plays.
Module 2: 1 Henry IV
Readings: The origin of the history play; Machiavelli; the Tudor myth.
Module 3: Hamlet
Readings: The Elizabethans and the supernatural; the concept of literary "universality."
Module 4: King Lear
Readings: The texts of the plays; dramatic structure; Shakespeare's sources.
Module 5: Macbeth
Readings Tragedy before Shakespeare; Renaissance views of Shakespeare.
Module 6: Othello
Readings: On Renaissance "self-fashioning," "Women and Men in Othello."
Module 7: Antony and Cleopatra
Readings: On sexism in critics, Shakespeare's source (Plutarch), neoclassical criticism of Shakespeare.
It is likely that students in this course will range in background and experience from those who have taken little other than a first year course to fourth-year students who have taken courses on Chaucer and other early literature, and have already studied Shakespeare. One advantage of the fact that this course is offered with the aid of written materials rather than lectures is that you as reader have a greater degree of control over what you need to read thoroughly and what you can skip. The level of expertise I assume, especially in the first modules, is of a student who has taken no more than introductory courses in English. If you are more advanced you can speed-read material you are familiar with. The layout of the written materials, with clear headings to indicate what follows, should allow you to know quickly what you need to take particular note of.
If you have already taken English 366E, the companion course on Shakespeare's comedies, problem plays, and romances, you will find that you will already have read some introductory materials on the Elizabethan context and staging the plays; you will also find, however, that this course offers a wide range of readings you have not previously encountered.