Introduction to Shakespeare

English 274-086
Meeting in Damen 736, Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, 8:15-9:05 AM

(Be sure to check out the course schedule.)

Course Description

William Shakespeare has remained a cultural and literary force for over 400 years. In this course we will study eight of his plays—King Lear, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, and The Winter’s Tale—and his poetry, in order to develop a greater critical understanding of and familiarity with Shakespeare’s writing and its influence.

Of special concern in this course will be his portrayal of community and social relations. We will examine the ways in which outsiders are incorporated into and expelled by society, the use of social standing or rank to advance one’s goals, attitudes concerning disability and difference, the function of magic on the mundane, and so on.

Required Texts

The main text for this course is The Norton Shakespeare; you are required to use this edition. The introductions to the individual plays are recommended reading, as is Greenblatt’s general introduction. Portions of The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare are assigned reading; in the class schedule, page numbers are prefaced by “BC.” You are encouraged to familiarize yourselves with the resources in this book, as they will enhance your understanding of early modern culture and current critical debates.

In addition to these print resources, I have developed a course web site, which will provide access to some of the more useful electronic resources relating to Shakespeare; add discussion questions, other details, and updates to the class schedule; and give us an opportunity to continue discussion outside of class time. I expect that you will check this site at least in the afternoon on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Learning Outcomes

See the outcomes page for the official university statement of learning objectives and competencies for this course.

Shakespeare in Performance

We will have several opportunities to view productions of Shakespeare’s plays on stage and screen. Film viewings may include Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, and Titus; we will arrange viewing times during the first week of class. In addition, we will attend Loyola’s own McElroy Shakespeare Celebration on 11 April and make arrangements to view a Saturday production of Macbeth at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism or cheating of any kind will incur severe penalties that may include a grade of F for the course. All instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Chair of the English Department and to the Dean of the student’s College. For a brief explanation of what constitutes plagiarism and why it violates basic academic principles, see the section on “Academic Integrity” in the Undergraduate Studies Catalogue. If you have any questions about the appropriate use of sources, please do not hesitate to ask me.

Class Procedures

You are expected to attend every class session and actively participate in class discussion. While I have my own interests when it comes to the course material, it is also imperative that we pursue your interests and concerns; I encourage you to come to class with notes and potential questions for discussion. While you are only expected to prepare the reading as it assigned, it is in your best interest to have read each play in its entirety by the first day that that play is discussed.

Each writing assignment is due at the beginning of the class period. All writing assignments should be typed, double-spaced, and in a reasonable font (e.g., 12 point “Times New Roman”); they should also have one-inch margins and follow the citation standards set forth in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (6th ed.).

Electronic submissions of written work are not accepted; late submissions will be lowered ⅓ grade for each day they are late.


I reserve the right to alter your grade by up to 10% on account of class participation.

Graded Material


There will be five quizzes over the course of the semester. Each will be based on the assigned reading and on terms and concepts discussed in class. On the first day that a play is assigned, you will receive a set of key quotes with which you are to familiarize yourself; some of those quotes may appear on a quiz, and you will be expected to identify the speaker, the context of the lines, and their significance to the play. Each quiz will only test material covered after the previous quiz; they may or may not be announced and will usually take place at the beginning of class.

Dramatic Performance

Each student is expected to participate in the performance of a selected scene from the assigned plays. In addition to acting in the scene, each member of the group is expected to write a one-page report on what you have learned about your scene by rehearsing and performing it. For example, how did performing the scene help you to understand the text?

You will have the opportunity to sign up on 20 January.

Response Papers

Response papers are your opportunity to engage the play texts on your own terms. For example, you could address a few lines or a scene that interest you, or you could write what would function as an introduction to a longer argumentative essay. Whatever your decision, you will be expected to write a full page of thoughtful and concise prose. You are expected to write five response papers, each on a different play, over the course of the semester. Response papers are due on the first day that a reading is assigned.

Midterm Exam

The exam will address all the material from the syllabus that we have covered so far.

In order to prepare, you should review the quotation handouts, your notes, and other assigned readings. The quizzes will give you some idea as to the midterm format. Your response papers may also be of some use, as these should be concrete examples of the way you’ve been thinking about the plays. Think also about the general themes that we have established for this course, especially the issues of deception and betrayal.

You should also familiarize yourself with these key terms: sprezzatura, concordia discors, blank verse, iambic pentameter, and Machiavelli.

The exam itself will probably take you most of the class period to complete, so make sure to arrive on time or early.

The exam takes place on Friday, March 3, 8:15 a.m. to 9:05 a.m., in the classroom.

Final Exam

The exams will consist primarily of short answer and passage identification, analysis, and explication. Some of the material on the exam may be taken from the play quotation handouts, from the quizzes, or from both. The exam will be cumulative but weighted toward material covered during the second half of the semester.

The exam takes place on Saturday, May 13, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., in the classroom.

Questions? Send me e-mail: .