Shakespeare Before 1600
This course immerses us in the first half of the career of the world’s peerless writer. The class will watch the playwright take his early steps with the lurid self-indulgence of Titus Andronicus, before outdistancing his rival Marlowe and finding his stride in the lyric plays Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and his first complete masterpiece A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then in three history plays we will watch him engage questions of legitimacy of government, and of personal loyalty, in the friendship and rivalry between Prince Hal, and the great bewitching personality of Falstaff. Then the class will follow Shakespeare as he stretches the genre of comedy—in The Merchant of Venice with its scrutiny of racism and nascent capitalism, in Much Ado about Nothing with Beatrice and Benedick’s flirtation by insult, and in As You Like It where Shakespeare’s protofeminism flowers in the beloved Rosalind when, disguised as the boy Ganymede, she pretends to be herself. Finally, with Shakespeare as the preeminent dramatist in London, we will see him take on a major turning point in the history of western culture, in Julius Caesar. The class will learn about major currents in contemporary Shakespeare study—intertextual, feminist, queer, and cultural study—and powerful new resources including machine-searchable archives of Shakespeare’s own works and also of the texts he himself read and used. As time permits, we will watch and discuss clips of the plays in question.