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English 366D: Introduction

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Course Description

ENGL 366D--Shakespeare by Individual Studies: Histories and Tragedies--is one of two courses which together constitute a full survey of Shakespeare's works.

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.

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What is "Individual Studies"?

This course will have no formal lectures. In their place you will have access to several kinds of learning experiences, from conventional face-to-face tutorials to various kinds of multimedia and computer interaction. It is my hope that you will feel at the end of the course that these ways of looking at Shakespeare will have more than compensated for the absence of lectures.

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A Table of Contents for the Course

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.

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The Level of Instruction

Since this is an upper-level course in English, you will be expected to read intelligently and to write fluently and accurately. The only formal prerequisite for the course is three units of first year English; if you have not taken English 200A (Survey from Chaucer to the Renaissance) or its equivalent, you may find that you have some catching up to do, since the course assumes a basic understanding of the development of English literature to the time 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.

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The Objectives of This Course

General objectives of the course
  1. To guide you through whatever obstacles may lie in the way of your understanding of Shakespeare's plays so that you may read and reread them with ease and pleasure.
  2. To cultivate your skills of observation, reflection and critical thinking by requiring you to write about what you see and think.
Specific objectives
  1. To explore and explain Shakespeare's text, showing that you can read a modern edition of the plays with sensitivity.
  2. To describe the way that the stage and the physical action on it contribute to your understanding of the plays.
  3. To be aware of the ways in which different readings and performances of the plays interpret, illuminate, or modify our understanding of the text.
  4. To discuss Shakespeare's characterization.
  5. To illustrate Shakespeare's use of dramatic structure and convention.
  6. To refer where necessary in your discussion of his plays to the society and the beliefs of his time.
  7. To be aware of the way the texts of the plays have been transmitted to the modern reader.
  8. To discuss Shakespeare's exploration of the great themes of human experience: power, justice, love, death.
  9. Especially towards the end of the course, to become aware of the way that modern theoretical approaches can illuminate and challenge the texts.

Office hours

My office is B436 Clearihue, and I will be there 3:30-4:20 on Mondays and Thursdays.
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This page last updated on 28 December 2002. © Internet Shakespeare Editions, 2002.