This Distance Education course surveys the drama that Shakespeare composed for the English Renaissance stage. We shall study five of his plays, some of which we can recognize easily as examples of comedy and of tragedy, and others of which are generically hybrid and thus prove more difficult to label as one particular kind of play. Despite this course’s emphasis on genre, we will not study these plays, and particularly the comedies and the tragedies, in discrete units designed around, for instance, the idea of “comedy.” Instead, we shall engage these plays in chronological order, in part to dispel a developmental narrative that casts Shakespeare’s comedies as juvenile and sophomoric and his tragedies as mature and sophisticated: one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, after all, is a psychologically complex tragedy. Our syllabus thus affords a sense of the breadth, the eclecticism, and the richness of Shakespeare’s dramatic canon: we shall read one comedy (Twelfth Night); two tragedies (Macbeth and Titus Andronicus); one history play (Henry V); and, one “hybrid” romance (The Winter’s Tale).
Students wishing to enroll in this course may have studied one or two of Shakespeare’s plays in secondary school or even at college or university. The language of Shakespeare’s drama can be quite challenging, but students who may not have studied much or any Shakespeare’s plays are nonetheless strongly encouraged to enroll in this course. There are, however, two prerequisites for ENGL 348A: the successful completion of 6 credits of first-year English, of Arts One, or of the CAP Program AND a third-year standing at the University of British Columbia.
You should purchase for ENGL 348A Stephen Greenblatt’s The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed., which was published in 2008. All citations in this online course refer to this edition of Shakespeare’s complete works. The price of this edition is roughly equivalent to the cost of purchasing new soft cover editions (from the Arden or from the Folger Shakespeare collections) of our five plays. Although The Norton Shakespeare may thus appear, at first glance, to be hefty in price and in size, it contains a wealth of information about Shakespeare’s England and about individual plays that will enrich your sense of these texts and will prove a superb bibliographic resource for students interested in conducting further research. Its method of glossing archaic language and of paraphrasing particularly tricky passages is meticulous, so you should be sure to glance at the commentaries, which sometimes are located at the side of the page and sometimes at its bottom, in a footnote, whenever prompted to do so.
There are many ways to read Shakespeare. We, for instance, are reading his plays as they have been handed down to us by a long editorial tradition. Some of you might wish to know more about an individual play, perhaps about the sociology of Shakespeare’s theatre, or maybe even about the relation between Scottish politics and Macbeth. You might like, in other words, to supplement your reading of Shakespeare by perusing the work of scholars who have also read and written about Shakespeare. Reading such materials is not a requirement for the successful completion of this course. But this (lack of) requirement should not deter those of you who wish to read scholarly commentary and to incorporate its insights into your essays.
In order to facilitate such further reading, there is appended here a short suggested reading list of biographies that focus on Shakespeare’s theatre and life. You can also supplement this scholarship by referring to the “Selected Bibliography” sections located at the end of the introduction to each play in The Norton Shakespeare.
It is important for you to become aware of the wonderful secondary resources available to you through the UBC Library. But the primary aim of this course, and particularly of its required assignments, is for you to engage Shakespeare’s plays on their own terms, perhaps gently facilitated by scholarly commentary, but never overwhelmed by it.
Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography (London: Nan A. Talese, 2005)
Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare After All (New York: Anchor, 2005)
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004)
James Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (New York: HarperCollins, 2005)
You must successfully complete three kinds of assignments – you must contribute weekly to our course’s e-seminar; you must write two essays; and, you must take the final exam.