ENGL 3000 Shakespeare for Nonmajors
Melanie Lo, PhD
About the Course:
From the General Catalogue: Introduction to Shakespeare. Introduces students to 6-10 of Shakespeare’s major plays. Comedies, histories, and tragedies will be studied. Some non-dramatic poetry may be included. Viewing of Shakespeare in performance is often required.
Over four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare was only one of many playwrights within an active and thriving theatrical community in early modern London; today, he is widely considered to be the greatest playwright, and arguably the greatest writer, who ever lived. Shakespeare’s plays have become required reading in every high school and university, and his work is performed in countless languages. What is it about Shakespeare’s plays that continues to draw us? Why do we still read them and see them performed? And considering the distance of centuries between Shakespeare and us, what can these plays still teach us?
This course will aim to answer the above questions by introducing students to Shakespeare’s work and world. We will follow the trajectory of Shakespeare’s career by reading major examples of the genres in which he wrote: history, comedy, tragedy, and romance. Our basic objective is to develop an understanding of how Shakespeare’s plays work as literature and as drama; we will therefore analyze and discuss these plays both in themselves and in the context of theatre, film, and TV adaptations. We will enrich our reading by exploring the contexts of Renaissance history; these contexts will help us discuss how the conditions of Shakespeare’s time affected the way his plays were written and performed.
As non-English majors, you will bring a wealth of personal expertise to the study of Shakespeare. The plays that we will read often take as their subject the concerns of your own areas of study, such as: history and how the past shapes the present; the law, how it works, and how it should work; business and what it means to enter into a contract or to be in debt; medicine, and how illness in the body can affect the mind and the soul. So for those of you new to—or intimidated by—Shakespeare’s work, take heart! He wrote these plays for you, hoping that you would read them and watch them, hoping that they would make you feel as much as they make you think. Therefore, this course is designed to help you develop the tools that will allow you to understand, to discuss, to engage with, and to enjoy these great works by the Man from Stratford.
Students who read closely and carefully, and who actively participate in the work of the course, will have the ability to do the following by the end of term:
- Interpret and analyze representative examples of Shakespeare’s drama with a particular emphasis on language, genre, character, and theme;
- Describe the historical and cultural contexts of early modern drama;
- Interpret early modern verse and prose;
- Distinguish the links between page (written text) and stage (performance);
- Employ and appraise online research tools to develop digital literacies;
- Write clear, concise, analytical prose.
The Norton Shakespeare: The Essential Plays and The Sonnets, 3rd edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean Howard, Katherine E. Maus, Suzanne Gossett, and Gordon McMullen. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2015. ISBN: 978-0-393-93863-0
Syllabus Quiz (5%):
The Syllabus Quiz gives you an opportunity to tell me about yourself, your knowledge of Shakespeare’s works, and what you’d like to learn in this class. You’ll also be asked to confirm your understanding of the requirements for this course.
Discussion Posts (40%):
Each week, you will compose a discussion post dedicated to that week’s readings. These written posts will then be read and evaluated by your peers, who will offer constructive comments and feedback on both the content and form of your writing. In turn, you will be expected to respond to 2 classmates’ discussion posts by Friday. Discussion posts represent a substantial portion of your coursework because they take the place of what would be an in-class discussion in a traditional seminar. These posts should be thoughtful and well-written. You will receive a detailed prompt for the specific form the post should take. Note well: I do not accept late work. Late posts will earn zero points. You will have to opportunity to revise one post for a higher grade.
Close Reading Essay (25%):
In this 5-7 page essay, you will advance an argument about a theme or topic in either Richard III or 1 Henry IV. I will provide you with a series of prompts to choose from, and your essay will be asked to develop an original thesis in response to a prompt based on your interpretation of the text. You will then defend your thesis through close-reading and analysis of quotes from the text.
Creative Final project (30%):
You will get to design a project, using a creative approach, to help other students better understand how your chosen Shakespeare play resonates in today’s world. This creative project is an opportunity for you to experiment with different approaches to understanding literary texts, and to demonstrate your mastery of Shakespeare and his work. You will share your projects with our class in a digital exhibit during the final week of the course. Extensive details on the final project are published in Canvas, and you should review them as soon as possible to begin brainstorming!