Academic Catalog 2022-2023 
    Jun 18, 2024  
Academic Catalog 2022-2023 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

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EGL 200 - Shakespeare to 1600

Course Units: 1.0

(Winter: Wareh) Shakespeare’s works speak to perennial human concerns (ambition, unrequited love, the conflicts between generations), and he has even been lauded as the “inventor of the human.”  At the same time, his plays come from a very specific cultural milieu; he was a white man who lived in England from 1564-1616.  In this course, we will explore the plays written in the first half of Shakespeare’s career, collaborating to appreciate the rhetorical devices of Shakespeare’s language and to understand the cultural milieu in which his plays were written.  Some of the questions that we will ask include: How do structures of political and familial authority affect the characters’ conceptions of their roles and duties? What possibilities do the plays offer for female empowerment? To what extent did Shakespeare’s stage, which reached audiences of all classes, challenge contemporary conceptions of inherited nobility at a time of increasing social mobility?

Shakespeare’s plays have at their center the question of performance; this makes them very well suited to exploring the multifaceted ways in which human identity is social constructed and socially expressed.  In our readings of romantic comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing, we will ask how both women and men are constricted by gendered expectations of honor.  We will also explore the pernicious association between “fairness” and beauty in Shakespeare’s time, discovering how expectations about women’s supposed sexual and physical purity worked through references to offensive racial stereotypes about contamination.  In our discussion of The Merchant of Venice, we will pay particular attention to how the privileging of upper-class, Christian men in the play and the religious othering of Shylock and Jessica contributes to a society in which injustice is hypocritically masked as mercy, and all characters suffer.  Our examination of the history plays such as Henry IV, Part 1, will attend to the costs of creating an English national identity; in particular, we will explore how racial and gendered othering in these plays defines what it means to be English in way that privilege some and exclude others. Cross-Listed: ATH 256 Prerequisite(s): One 100-level English course or a score of 5 on the AP English Language or Literature and Composition test. CC: HUL, WAC, HUM, JLIT

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