SHAKESPEARE: SHAKESPEARE & CONTEMPORARIES
Julianne Werlin & Leonard Tennenhouse
Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists wrote in troubled times. Renaissance London was the site of plague, religious conflict, anxieties about the transition between governments, and a growing gap between rich and poor. Yet within this dangerous world, the theater grew and flourished, reaching audiences of thousands. It produced some of the most remarkable literature in English, whose inspired witticisms, larger-than-life characters, and scenes of passion and violence still shape our culture today.
In this class, we will read some of Shakespeare's greatest comedies, tragedies, and histories, setting them in dialogue with works by his rivals, friends, and imitators. Surveying the landscape of Renaissance theater, we will consider how art responds to moments of uncertainty, and whether it simply reflects dominant views, or can shape public opinion. And we will ask what happens when art itself becomes the subject of controversy -- as in Shakespeare's England, when offended members of the public demanded that the theaters be shut down. We will read a range of plays, including Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest. Writing assignments will include three short papers.