Schedule: Introduction to Shakespeare

We will try to stick to this plan as closely as possible, but we may get ahead or fall behind. If either situation arises, expect in-class and online announcements of schedule revisions. Develop habits, therefore, of bringing your copy of the syllabus to each class meeting and of checking this page.

Jan. 18 Wed.

Introductions: We will review the syllabus and course web site; discuss our prior experience with Shakespeare; and make a first foray into early modern English pronunciation, syntax, and vocabulary.


This is from the “Queen Mab” dialogue between Romeo and Mercutio (1.4.49-103). David Crystal reads from the Penguin edition:

Romeo. I dreamt a dream tonight.
Mercutio. And so did I.
Romeo. Well, what was yours?
Mercutio. That dreamers often lie.
Romeo. In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.
Mercutio. O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep.
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs;
The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;
Her traces, of the smallest spider web;
Her collars, of the moonshine’s watery beams;
Her whip, of cricket’s bone; the lash, of film;
Her wagoner, a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight;
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
(1.4.50-76; source: Shakespeare’s Words)

The audio files are in Windows Media format. The first covers lines 50-61; the second covers lines 62-76. (Source: David Crystal, Pronouncing Shakespeare, Cambridge UP, 2005.)

Jan. 20 Fri.

Much Ado About Nothing (1389-1443): Acts 1-3. “Comedy” (BC 81-85). In addition, we will sign up for dramatic performances.


I’ll be circulating a sign-up sheet on Friday. These are the scenes, so that you can consider your options before class:

  • Richard III: 5.5.71-160: 15 Feb.
  • Macbeth: 1.3.1-84: 24 Feb.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream: 5.1.126-258: 20 Mar.
  • Titus Andronicus: 5.3.17-65: 29 Mar.
  • King Lear: 3.7.41-96: 12 Apr.
  • King Lear: 5.3.231-301: 12 Apr.

These scenes should accommodate all of you. (We can make adjustments, if necessary.)

Think about the ways that comedy, as a genre, functions. In what ways does Much Ado About Nothing follow comedic conventions, and in what ways does it deviate from them? What might be the effect of those similarities and differences on our reception of the play?

The plot of Much Ado is heavily predicated on deception. Consider the different ways that Shakespeare employs deception and its motivation in the opening three acts. (Note well that deception works best when the deceiver plays off the tendencies of his or her mark!)

There have been a few questions about response papers. You’re expected to write on five of the eight plays we cover. If you want to write on Much Ado About Nothing, acts 1-3, that paper is due Friday, 20 January.

Jan. 23 Mon.

Much Ado About Nothing. “‘To What End Are All These Words?’: Shakespeare’s Dramatic Language” (BC 36-58).


We’ll continue our discussion of Much Ado About Nothing, acts 1-3. Also read “‘To What End Are All These Words?’: Shakespeare’s Dramatic Language” (BC 36-58).

We’ll focus our discussion primarily on Beatrice’s, Benedick’s, and Dogberry’s use of language. I’ll also have a few more things to say about Early Modern English.

Jan. 25 Wed.

Much Ado About Nothing: Acts 4-5. “Men and Women: Gender, Family, and Society” (BC 253-77).


We’ll add acts 4 and 5 of Much Ado to the mix, as well as The Bedford Companion‘s thoughts on gender relations.

We’ll also return to the question of how deception works in the play. Also important: what is Dogberry’s significance to that theme? What does his language accomplish for the play and for the audience?

Jan. 27 Fri.

Much Ado About Nothing.


We’ll finally get to Dogberry’s role as “discoverer of secrets.”

Gender will also be of importance: how do gender roles function in the play? How does the play affirm/defy Early Modern expectations?

Bring your own questions and concerns to class, as well as potential evenings to watch a few movies over the semester. (Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays are out.)

Jan. 30 Mon.

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (2100-72): Acts 1-3. “Tragedy” (BC 85-90). Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio, “From Gli Hecatommithi” (BC 169-70).


We’re moving on to Othello.

For today, we should think especially about what tragedy is. What are the conventions of the genre? How are tragedy and comedy related; in what ways do they operate differently?

Note that Othello has overt similarities to Much Ado About Nothing. Part of this, of course, is the mutual theme of deception, which is developed in Othello not only by playing off of trust issues, but also various stereotypes and expectations.

Also, bring your schedules with you to class: we should schedule a time to view Much Ado About Nothing before our discussion has become too temporally distant.

Feb. 1 Wed.

Othello. Baldassare Castiglione, “From The Book of the Courtier” (BC 73-76).


Today we’ll look primarily at how Iago uses language to gain advantage. Most noticeably, he successfully manipulates Othello, but his trickery works on others, too. As we can see even in the first three acts of Othello, Iago’s actions are destructive in many ways; note well Robert Dallington, a seventeenth-century military theorist: “Nothing is more dangerous in the services of warre or peace, then discord and faction among the great ones.”

We’ll also begin thinking about how race and gender function in the play. How does the play manipulate stereotypes? Do the characters succumb to or defy expectations?

Feb. 3 Fri.

Othello: Acts 4-5. Queen Elizabeth I, “Edict Arranging for the Expulsion from England of Negroes and Blackamoors” (BC 302).


We’ll continue thinking about stereotypes in Othello. How do various characters allow those stereotypes to influence their behavior? Is there any way for them to break out of the implicit and explicit expectations that others place on them? (But of special interest today will be the attitudes of the English toward minority groups.)

We’ll also begin to think about the way symbols work in the play by spending time on the infamous handkerchief.

Feb. 6 Mon.

Othello. Thomas Rymer, “From A Short View of Tragedy” (BC 108).


We’ll continue our discussion about assumptions, deception, and stereotypes in Othello. We should be especially careful to address the ways that the play employs gender relations. (For example: What are Iago’s attitudes toward women—especially toward Emilia? How do Emilia and Desdemona participate in the play’s action?) In addition, it will be useful to consider gender in light of Friday’s discussion of racial attitudes.

Make sure to bring your own questions and concerns to class. What aspects of Othello do you think are important but remain unaddressed?

Feb. 8 Wed.

The Tragedy of Richard the Third (515-96): Act 1. “History” (BC 90-94). Edward Hall, “From The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York” (BC 163-64).


An aspect of Othello that we didn’t cover is the idea of Iago as devil. Consider Othello’s words: “I look down towards his feet, but that’s a fable / If that thou beest a devil I cannot kill thee,” to which Iago responds, “I bleed sir, but not killed” (5.2.292-94).

This idea will become more important as we begin our discussion of Richard III, who seems to be at least an agent of the devil, if not the devil himself. Remember, however, that Richard is more complicated than even Shakespeare demonstrates. Shakespeare is writing during the reign of the family who removed Richard III from the throne (as is Edward Hill, who wrote a Tudor history of the Wars of the Roses).

For this play, then, especially important will be history and propaganda, what’s significant about a villain functioning as the main character, and why this history is called a tragedy.

Feb. 10 Fri.

Richard III: Act 2.


We’ll continue our discussion of Richard III. How do Richard’s mechanations progress in the second act? Think also about his use of language—in his wordplay, is he more or less effective than Iago?

Dahlia Lithwick, who writes the “Jurisprudence” column at Slate, has a great line today about the Zacarias Moussaoui trial:

When the crazy folks are the only ones speaking the truth, you’re either in a Shakespeare tragedy or Wonderland.

We haven’t heard much from the “crazy folks” yet—but just wait. They’re coming . . .

Feb. 13 Mon.

Richard III: Acts 3-4. Niccolò Machiavelli, “From The Prince” (BC 334-36).


During Shakespeare’s time, it was slanderous to call someone a Machiavel. We’ll be reading some material by Machiavelli, who was an astute political theorist, but whose ideas were thought to be at best subversive, at worst evil. Then we’ll consider how Machiavelli’s thought can inform our understanding of Richard III.

(There are some reasonably useful links about Machiavelli, including this brief biography and the Wikipedia entry. For a modern parallel to the original Machiavel, you might want to read up on Karl Rove.)

We’ll also continue considering the functions of disability within the play, as well as whatever other issues interest you.

Feb. 15 Wed.

Richard III: Act 5.


Today we’ll see our first in-class performance, of Richard III, 5.5.71-160.

We’ll also conclude our discussion of Richard III. Think about the means that Richard uses to gain power. Are any of his methods also involved in his “tragic” downfall? (Note that for an Elizabethan audience, his demise would likely be a cause for celebration.)

When we were discussing the role of women in Othello, Jocelyn asked where Desdemona’s mother was. This will become an even more significant question as we progress through the remaning readings, especiall when we get to King Lear.

If you’re curious about the issue of gender in Shakespeare, a couple good places to start are the following essays:

  • Kahn, Coppélia. “The Absent Mother in King Lear.” Rewriting the Renaissance. Ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 33-49.
  • Thompson, Ann. “Are There Any Women in King Lear?” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Valerie Wayne. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991. 117-28.
Feb. 17 Fri.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2564-2616): Act 1.


Today we begin Macbeth. Note especially how Macbeth is lauded during the report of battle:

For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name!—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour’s minion
Carved out his passage till he faced the slave,
Which ne’er shook hands nor bade farewell to him
Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements. (1.2.16-23)

This is a grisly description, of course, but important for us because it helps frame Macbeth as a war hero.

Something’s rotten in the state of Scotland, however, as we have some witches causing trouble as well. How do “reality” and the supernatural intertwine in the opening act? What is especially unsettling or dangerous about the way Shakespeare frames this tragedy?

For the curious among you, there’s a brief mention of Macbeth in one of the manuscripts of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

1054. Here Earl Siward traveled forth with a great raiding-army into Scotland, both with raiding ship-army and with raiding land-army, and fought against the Scots, and put to flight the king Macbeth, and killed all that was best there in the land, and led away from there such a great war-booty as no man had ever got before; but his son, Osbern, and his sister’s son, Siward, and some of his housecarls and also the king’s, were killed there on the Day of the Seven Sleepers [27 July].

Feb. 20 Mon.

Macbeth: Acts 2-4. Andrew Gurr, “The Shakespearean Stage” (3281-3301).


We’ll continue our discussion of Macbeth. It will probably be most beneficial for us to think about this play from three angles:

  1. the role of Lady Macbeth and the treatment of women,
  2. the nature of treachery, and
  3. the function of the supernatural.

Specifically, what are Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s attitudes toward murder? What do you make of the scenes with Banquo’s ghost? What do you think of Macduff’s behavior, especially when he “abandons” his wife? How do the scenes with the wyrd sisters fit in to the play?

At the same time, we should think of this play in terms of its being drama. Note that Macbeth is filled with spectacle and is staged on multiple levels. How do you suppose an audience would react to this play? Gurr’s essay should be especially helpful in conceptualizing Macbeth as theater.

Feb. 22 Wed.

Macbeth: Act 5.


We’ll continue our dicussion of Macbeth. We should be especially concerned with the portrayal of blood in the play. For instance, think of the times when blood is specificially mentioned and how those references influence what else happens in those scenes.

Also consider the play’s portrayal of violence and the supernatural. How are they connected? Who, other than Macbeth, “sees things”? How do these visions add to the play’s discussion of treachery?

Feb. 24 Fri.



Today we wrap up Macbeth, with our second dramatic performance and a discussion that will focus on Lady Macbeth. For the latter, think especially about her relationship to the ideas of madness and masculinity. Consider, also, how she can be connected to the other women in the play—especially Lady Macduff, Hecate, and the witches (who, to quote Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”).

Feb. 27 Mon.

Sonnets 121, 130, and 132.


We’ve talked briefly about rhyme and meter (especially iambic pentameter) in class. When you read the sonnets, pay special attention to both of these poetic aspects.

Thanks to Lorraine Eadie for her work today, especially on the various sonnet forms!

March 1 Wed.

Sonnets 12, 64, and 81.


For sonnet 81, notice that the Norton Shakespeare gives us different punctuation than the 1609 version gives us. What interpretive possibilities change when punctuation changes?

March 3 Fri.

Midterm exam, 8:15 a.m. to 9:05 a.m., in the classroom.


It’s the midterm exam! Remember to check the study guide as a point of reference. All material, including the assigned sonnets, is fair game.

A little housekeeping:

  • If you are going to fall short of the required five response papers, or if you are dissatisfied with one of your response grades, fear not. You can write a response to one of the assigned sonnets, due on the day we’re scheduled to discuss it. I will average this grade with your lowest response grade; in the unlikely event that the average grade is lower than your original grade, the higher grade will stand.
  • Check out T. R. Hummer’s “The Rural Carrier Stops to Kill a Nine-Foot Cottonmouth” for a more recent take on the sonnet form.
  • Regarding the relationship between hearse and rehearse in Sonnet 81: the word hearse predates Shakespeare and was in use during his time. Think of it as a synonym for bier. There’s also a verbal form that means “To lay (a corpse) on a bier or in a coffin; to bury with funeral rites and ceremonies.”
March 6 Mon.

Spring break: no class.

March 8 Wed.

Spring break: no class.

March 10 Fri.

Spring break: no class.

March 13 Mon.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (814-60): Acts 1-3. “‘I Loved My Books’: Shakespeare’s Reading” (BC 145-62).


I hope you’ve had a refreshing spring break.

Today we’ll begin A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Think especially about the relationship between the city and the country in the play. It would also be beneficial to compare the various relationships in the play to models that we have already seen.

Some of Shakespeare’s inspiration for this play comes from Greco-Roman mythology. Remember to read the Bedford Companion essay on “Shakespeare’s Reading” (145-62); it should help put some of his use of sources into a clearer context.

March 15 Wed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ovid, “From Metamorphoses,” trans. Arthur Golding (BC 190-92).


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, continued. Think about the following things, especially:

  1. How do the city and the forest function differently? Are there ways in which they’re similar?
  2. How does magic work? Is it harmless or dangerous or both? (Think especially, but not only, of Robin Goodfellow, AKA “Puck.”)
  3. How does the play model relationships between men and women, between laborers and gentry?

I encourage you to come to class with your own questions and concerns, as well.

March 17 Fri.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Acts 4-5.


Today we’ll focus our attention on the fairies, especially on Robin. Note how his behavior is anathema to any sense of order or control. Even when Oberon requests that he use a pansy to enchant Titania (see especially the exchange between Oberon and Robin beginning at 2.1.155), Robin does much more than is desired of him.

We should also pay attention to how the play’s various settings and subplots intertwine. How do the various true and false loves comment on each other? How can the rude mechanicals’ decision to perform a play about the doomed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe inform our understanding of A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself?

March 20 Mon.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Along with the scheduled dramatic performance, we’ll be picking up with the material from Friday.

There are several important announcements:

  • Next week will be dedicated to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Please have the play and other scheduled readings associated with it prepared by March 20. Response papers are also due on March 20. Please make note of the changes.
  • If you have written five response papers but either feel dissatisfied with your work or want to explore more plays in your writing, you are welcome to continue writing response papers (although the one-per-play limit still applies). If one of these additional papers has a higher grade than one you previously submitted, the higher grade will count. (Note that this policy is different than the option to write a response on a sonnet, which is intended to aid those who will fall short of the 5 required response papers.)
  • Mid-semester grade reports will be handed out on Monday. If you are in danger of a grade lower than C, I will notify you by tomorrow morning at 8:00.

I’ll be holding extended office hours on Wednesday, 22 March, from 9:10 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., in order to meet with any of you who are concerned about your course grade thus far, are interested in discussing the essay assignment, or just want to chat. As usual, I’m also available at other times, if my office hours don’t work for you. Just drop me a line, and we can set something up.

March 22 Wed. The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus (379-433): Act 1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bedford Companion 145-62.


Discussion today was excellent. Thanks for being willing to contribute.

March 24 Fri. Titus Andronicus: Act 2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bedford Companion 190-92.


We’ll conclude our discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In preparation for the quiz, you’ll want to review the quotation handout.

Today’s discussion will start with Oberon. Why does he choose to manipulate Titania? What does their “relationship” (and Titania’s with Bottom) tell us about the play?

Finally, We should note Robin Goodfellow’s epilogue and extrapolate what it means to be “in the audience,” as it were:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And as I am an honest puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long,
Else the puck a liar call.
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends
And Robin shall restore amends.

March 27 Mon.

Titus Andronicus: Acts 3-4 1-2.


We begin Titus Andronicus. Please prepare acts 1 and 2 for class. As you read, recall how Iago and Richard use politics and rhetoric to manipulate others for their own ends. Their techniques will operate in contrast to Titus’ work; indeed, we could think of Titus Andronicus as a play that tells the other side of such “manipulation plays” as Othello and Richard III.

In some ways, Titus Andronicus will pose a challenge for us. The play is set during the Roman Empire—and therefore may be considered with Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus, for example. At the same time, however, Titus Andronicus is more a revenge tragedy than anything else. It is a brutal nightmare of a play, as we’ll certainly see. Figuring out what to make of it will be more than half the fun.

Over the weekend I’ll be posting the quotation sheet for Titus Andronicus, as well as instructions for the upcoming essay assignment. I’ll be bringing paper copies of the essay assignment to class, so consider the electronic version a preview of things to come.

March 29 Wed.

Titus Andronicus: Act 5 Acts 3-4.


Please prepare through the fourth act ofTitus Andronicus for class. We’ll delve especially into the pitfalls of blind obedience (especially since Titus himself is hardly the only character with this flaw). Also important will be the roles of Aaron, Tamora, and her sons: they all function as outsiders to the traditional Roman system and respond to its expectations and problems differently. Perhaps most important, and something we’ll continue to discuss on Friday, is the role of Lavinia in this mess.

We probably won’t discuss this until Friday, but keep in mind the functions of revenge in this play. Be especially aware that Titus is not the only person with revenge and murder on his mind!

And a housekeeping note: make sure to keep up, as well as you can, with the required response papers. These are meant to help you develop your own thoughts regarding the plays and to aid you in becoming more comfortable (if not more proficient) writers. Many of you are writing brilliant responses, while some of you have yet to turn any in. This latter issue is becoming problematic, as you’re reducing your overall grade with each response you miss—and your doing yourselves no favors by limiting the amount of thoughtful writing you do. (In addition, remember the old axiom, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing!)

I want to call your attention to the twentieth anniversary celebration at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. The theatre is celebrating during the entire month of April, and has scheduled many free events. Note especially the 200 free tickets to their “Short Shakespeare” production of Macbeth on April 1. As an enticement to my students: If you attend that production of Macbeth, you can count it as one of your interpretations for option four of the essay.

These events are, of course, in addition to the fifteenth annual McElroy Shakespeare Celebration on 11 April.

March 31 Fri. Sonnets 91-93. Titus Andronicus, act 5. **Performance.**


Please have act 5 of Titus Andronicus prepared for today. Near the end of Wednesday’s class, we stumbled onto the idea of these characters functioning as if they were automatons: that is, they seem to be virtually unchanging stereotypes whom Shakespeare merely winds up and sets on the stage.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. But how do these relatively flat figures come together to make such a compelling play? Is it that we’re attracted to the violence? Do we somehow feel “trapped” in our own lives—unable to control events around us or unable to remain balanced on increasingly treacherous terrain—and therefore (forgive the cliché) “identify” with these characters? Or is there something even more fundamental going on here?

We’ll begin with the scheduled dramatic performance and then delve into the above questions and whatever else interests you about the play. For example, we actually have a mother in the play; what does Tamora have to say about motherhood?

And finally, we’ll return to the issues that drive this tragedy: obedience and revenge.

April 3 Mon. The Tragedy of King Lear (2319-2473): Acts 1-3. Sonnets 91-93.


We’ll spend about half of this class wrapping up Titus Andronicus. Come with topics or issues that you’d like to discuss. Then we’ll move on to Sonnets 91-93. Recall our previous classes on the sonnets. (A response paper on one or more of these sonnets can enhance your response paper grade.)

A note to the people in the King Lear performance groups: The date has changed to April 10. I have sent a message to each group to get the ball rolling. Have fun!

April 4 Tue.

Titus (film viewing): 7-10 PM.


(If this time doesn’t work for you, don’t fret: Titus should be readily available from most online and brick-and-mortar rental establishments.)

Here is your enticement for coming: You are welcome to turn in a one-page review of the film in light of your having read Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. This review is one point of extra credit, which will be added to your final grade. (Thus, Bill Shakespeare could end up with 101/100, since he’s such a great student!) The review is due on April 12, in class.

April 5 Wed.

King Lear: Act 4 Acts 1-2. “The Church” and “The Ideology of Order” (BC 315-21).


We’ll begin today by wrapping up our discussion of sonnets 91-93. Then we’ll turn to the first two acts of The Tragedy of King Lear.

Make sure that you are reading the right play! If you’re being a “good” student and using The Norton Shakespeare, this should be easy to remember, as The Tragedy of King Lear appears on the right-hand page. (You should pay a little attention to The History of King Lear, though, and note the obvious differences between the “history” and the “tragedy,” as this will make your assignment for next Wednesday easier.)

If you don’t have access to The Norton Shakespeare, you might be able to find (either for purchase or from the library) The Oxford Shakespeare (Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, eds.; ISBN: 0198711905), which is essentially the same edition as the Norton, but without some of the handy introductions and explanatory notes.

If you’re not using one of these editions, you will likely have trouble with King Lear. The editorial challenges that this play presents will become clear(er) next Wednesday.

April 7 Fri.

King Lear: Act 5 Acts 3-4.


For class today, we will continue our discussion of King Lear, through act 4. Consider especially the play’s apparent obsession with fate and the apocalypse. A particularly fascinating image is the “Wheel of Fortune.” Consider the following passage from Thomas Malory’s Morte Arthur:

So uppon Trynyté Sunday at nyght kynge Arthure dremed a wondirfull dreme, and in hys dreme hym semed that he saw uppon a chafflet a chayre, and the chayre was fast to a whele, and thereuppon sate kynge Arthure in the rychest clothe of gold that myght be made. And the kynge thought there was undir hym, farre from hym, an hydeous depe blak watir, and therein was all maner of serpentis and wormes and wylde bestis fowle and orryble. And suddeynly the kynge thought that the whyle turned up-so-downe, and he felle amonge the serpentes, and every beste toke hym by a lymme.

Here’s a translation: “At night on Trinity Sunday, King Arthur dreamed an amazing dream, and in his dream it seemed to him that he saw a chair upon a platform, and the chair was attached to a wheel; and upon it sat King Arthur, in the richest gold cloth that could be made. And the king thought that under him, far from him, was hideous, deep, black water; and in it were all kinds of serpents and worms and foul and horrible wild beasts. And suddenly, the king thought that the wheel turned upside-down, and he fell among the serpents, and every beast took him by a limb.”

April 10 Mon. King Lear: compare with The History of King Lear (2318-2472). “‘What Is Your Text?’” (BC 194-210). King Lear, Act 5; Nahum Tate, “From The History of King Lear,” “The Church,” and “The Ideology of Order.” **Performance.**


We continue our discussion of King Lear, now through act 5; we’ll start with two performances.

Our discussion should focus not only on those performances, but also on the concerns about disability that the play raises: think especially of blindness and madness. Make sure to bring your own concerns to class as well.

April 11 Tue.

McElroy Shakespeare Celebration, 7:30 PM in the Mullady Theater.


Please make every attempt to attend the McElroy Shakespeare Celebration. (I’m sure it will be more entertaining and edifying than the Guster concert.)

If you come, I will offer a deal similar to what I did for Titus. Write a one-page response to the lecture and performance, turn it in to me by Friday, 21 April, and I will add up to one point of extra credit to your final grade. (What a deal!)

April 12 Wed.

Compare The Tragedy of King Lear with The History of King Lear; “‘What Is Your Text?’” (BC 194-210). Nahum Tate, “From The History of King Lear” (BC 383-85). Discussion of the McElroy.


For class today, we will be talking about the textual problem of King Lear. Document some differences between the “History” and the “Tragedy” and (perhaps!) also speculate about the reasons for some of those changes. I will most likely be calling on some of you to tell me what you found, so please come prepared.

(Speaking of coming to class prepared, there will be a quiz today.)

If the discussion of textual criticism intrigued you, you might want to review my notes.

April 14 Fri.

Easter Holiday: no class.

April 17 Mon.

Easter Holiday: no class.

April 19 Wed.

The Winter’s Tale (2883-2952): Acts 1-3. “Town and Country: Life in Shakespeare’s England” (BC 219-36).


We’ll begin class by following up on Wednesday’s crash course on textual criticism. (You’re encouraged to comment on or ask questions about my lecture.)

In addition, please prepare acts 1-3 of The Winter’s Tale and read “Town and Country: Life in Shakespeare’s England” (BC 219-36). We’ll talk about how a “Romance” is different generically from either comedy or tragedy. Consider also how the city/country dynamic in this play compares to what we saw in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

April 21 Fri.

The Winter’s Tale: Act 4.


We’ll continue discussion of The Winter’s Tale, acts 1-3. Think about genre expectations, especially as this play incorporates (and subverts) tragedy in these first three acts. (Next week we’ll think about the play’s relationship to comedy.)

I also would like us to consider the way that the play frames itself. In previous plays, we’ve encountered more deliberate framing techniques than here—e.g., the play-within-the-play from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or (perhaps) Titus Andronicus. In act 2 of this play, we witness this exchange between Hermione and Mamillius, her son:

H. Pray you sit by us,
and tell’s a tale.
M. Merry or sad shall’t be?
H. As merry as you will.
M. A sad tale’s best for winter. I have one
Of sprites and goblins.
H. Let’s have that, good sir.
Come on, sit down, come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites. You’re powerful at it. (2.1.22-30)

We soon realize that we’re not privy to this tale. But we witness some very frightening things, and some inexpicable magic or divine providence. Could we consider this exchange to be the framing of the play?

Think about these issues and consider the craft with which Shakespeare manipulates our expectations to create one of his richest plays.

April 24 Mon.

The Winter’s Tale: Act 5.


See this material for further thoughts about my favorite stage direction. (For the curious: although the bear-mauling in The Winter’s Tale is unique to this one of Shakespeare’s plays, the accompanying shipwreck is not: check out The Merchant of Venice or The Tempest for another instance in which a shipwreck helps drive the plot.)

Today we’ll focus on Shakespeare’s portrayal of country life. What does the fourth act (and the last scene of act three) of The Winter’s Tale tell us about rural people? What kinds of class distinctions does Shakespeare establish between the royalty and the shepherds? In light of what you’ve read in The Bedford Companion, do you take issue with what happens in this act? How does this dynamic change as we encounter act five?

These and other questions will be at the forefront of our discussion. I encourage you to come again with your own questions. The conversation on Friday was excellent.

Note that your first essay draft is due on Friday!

April 26 Wed.

The Winter’s Tale.


We continue our discussion of The Winter’s Tale. On Monday we framed the play’s portrayal of the city and the country. Our focus was primarily on the country life—especially on its idealization, which results in rural characters appearing at once naïve and simple. Note especially how the old shepherd and the clown stick out when they’re in Sicilia (in act 5).

Today we’ll continue thinking about the urban-rural tension, especially as it plays out from the perspectives of Polixenes and Camillo. We also must address the play’s portrayal of magic, its bizarre reported good news (in contrast with the more usual “reported death” in tragedy).

Thus far we’ve introduced some new terminology: the idea of agon and the three Aristotelean unities of time, space, and action, all of which The Winter’s Tale violates. It is in your interest to familiarize yourself with these ideas—especially with agon.

April 28 Fri.

Writing workshop.

Draft of essay due.


As you complete your essay drafts, remember especially this advice from the assignment sheet: think small. The essay topics I’ve given are intentionally broad, so that you can write about some aspect of those issues that interests you. Be careful, however, not to hang yourself with the long rope I’ve given you!

In addition, you need to use Shakespeare’s writing as your primary source—that is, your claim should focus on the subject matter of this course; you should use his writing as evidence to support your claim; and you should cite specific examples from the plays or sonnets, paying special attention to his language.

We’ll spend a few minutes wrapping up our discussion of The Winter’s Tale (focusing especially on the conclusion and the role of Paulina). Then we’ll have a kind of “writing workshop” that focuses on peer editing. Make sure to bring two copies of your essay to class.

The purpose of a peer editing session is to help you gauge your ability to communicate with an audience, in this case an audience of your peers. Sharing one’s ideas with others and having them evaluated is a critical stage in the writing process: without feedback, one has no concrete way of evaluating one’s evidence or the logic of an argument. (A good peer reviewer may even help point you in a more productive direction.)

During class, you will work in pairs, each of you reading the other’s essay. After you have read each other’s essay, you should discuss the essays with each other. In addition, you should provide written feedback, either on the essay itself or on a separate sheet. As you read, do not correct for grammar! Instead, note confusing sentences, but spend most of your time in answering the following questions:

  1. What is the author’s thesis statement? (Follow-up: Does the author actually make a claim that requires the evidence?)
  2. What is the topic sentence of each paragraph? (Follow-up: Do any paragraphs seem to address more than one topic?)
  3. Do the paragraphs follow a logical order? (That is, does one paragraph’s topic make sense in light of the previous paragraph?)
  4. Do these paragraphs—and the evidence the author uses—support the thesis statement?
  5. Does the conclusion remind you of the author’s initial argument?

There are probably other issues that you want to address, but you should take care to deal with the above questions before getting to your own.

May 1 Mon.

Sonnets 2, 106, 138, and 144; also their alternates (in the Norton Shakespeare, 1985-87).


Today we read sonnets 2, 106, 138, and 144, as well as their alternate versions. Note that you can find these sonnets and their alternates on pages 1985-1987 in The Norton Shakespeare. (If you’re ambitious, feel free also to read them in the context of the whole sonnet collection.)

We will be primarily concerned with the influence of variation on our ability to interpret these poems—and, time permitting, the role of context on our understanding of them.

These sonnets are your last opportunity to write a make-up response paper, which is due today. Please also make sure to have your Titus and McElroy reviews finished by today, if you haven’t turned them in already.

On Revision

The process of revision is more than one’s correcting surface errors, including punctuation and spelling errors. While it is important to correct such “mistakes” (since these corrections help to clarify communication), we should consider revision in light of its Latin root, revisere ‘to look [at] again.’

Revision is a process in which you critically reassess your argument and the order and quality of the evidence that you use to support it. Do you make clear connections between your evidence and your argument? Are there counter-arguments that you must consider? Are there aspects of your analysis that you leave unsaid? Do your evidence and thesis statement make sense in light of each other? Would a different presentation of the evidence enhance your argument? You should ask these kinds of questions as you begin your revision process.

For some of you in the Shakespeare class, especially for those of you who have particularly well-developed drafts, the revision process might be quick and relatively painless. But be aware that revising your essay might take as much work as—or more work than—your draft. Consider these thoughts as you revise your essay, some of which already appear in this post but are repeated for emphasis:

Revision should be more than an exercise in correcting punctuation and spelling errors. I will appreciate your efforts to correct spelling and punctuation, but such efforts are not acceptable on their own. Spelling and punctuation are surface structures that enable the effective transmission of information but generally have little impact on the actual content of the essay. At every step in the revision process, therefore, you should ask yourself evaluative questions (e.g., “Do I support that claim?” or “Why is this statement important to my argument?”).

Don’t be afraid to revise with impunity. You will feel better about the end result (and I probably will, too).

I should add that if writing is part of your profession, you will probably always be better off revising your work before it “goes live” (or whatever the correct term is).

Two examples from my own experience:

Pawel recently caught an embarrassing error in a post for this class. If he hadn’t told me about it, I would have missed it—and would continue to look particularly inept to any passers-by.

I also recently received a rejection letter for an article I’ve been working on. While it’s not fun to hear that my work isn’t “good enough,” the journal editor sent along comments from the anonymous readers of the article. Their remarks were for the most part encouraging—and their suggestions actually have helped me rethink some of the gaps in my argument that were eating away at me, but to which I hadn’t found an acceptible solution. With revision, the readers said, I had the makings of a solid, publishable article.

A slight schedule change is in the works.

It appears that I will not be able to complete grading essay drafts and hand them back until Wednesday. Because this does not give you sufficient time to complete any real revisions according to the original schedule, the essay is now due at the time of the final exam. I encourage you, however, to finish your essay—and turn it in—as early as possible.

The May 1 schedule will cover the assigned sonnets. Time permitting, we will begin review for the final exam. The format of the exam will be similar to the midterm; you can expect a higher amount of passage identification, two short-essay questions, and more terms to identify.

May 3 Wed.

Exam review, course evaluations.


I have a few general comments about your drafts, which overall were very good or showed promise.

Take the following advice to heart and apply it to the best of your ability. And above all else, read your paper aloud before you turn it in on the thirteenth! (This allows you to defamiliarize yourself with your own writing—something silent reading never does.) You’ll notice the little things, as well as major structural issues.

  1. You should eliminate “It is [insert noun here] who/that” phrases from your writing. Such writing relegates the main idea to a relative clause and removes any action from your writing.
  2. Avoid passive voice. Instead of “Duncan is murdered by Macbeth,” write “Macbeth murders Duncan.” (Remember that politicians and other stereotypically “sleazy” people love the passive voice because it deflects agency. “Mistakes were made in New Orleans” avoids culpability; “We made mistakes in New Orleans” accepts blame—and is more honest.)
  3. Make sure that you’re not using “to be” verbs excessively—they only communicate existence, when most literary writing entails (and necessitates) action. For example, do you use a verb like “is deceiving”? Make sure that you can’t use “deceives” instead. (Sometimes “to be” is unavoidable, so don’t get too militant about addressing this issue. Use discretion.)
  4. Play, book, and journal titles should be italicized (e.g., Richard III or Renaissance Self-Fashioning); journal articles and other short works should be surrounded by quotation marks (e.g., “The Household of Archbishop Parker and the Influencing of Public Opinion”).
  5. Quotations that are longer than 3 lines of poetry or prose need to be offset by one inch from the left margin (keep line-breaks in the poetry); the parenthetical citation follows the concluding punctuation mark—with no period after it.
  6. In-line quotations of poetry need to have lines separated by a slash mark: “Nothing she does or seems / But smacks of something greater than herself, / Too noble for this place” (WT 4.4.157-59). This format of parenthetical citation applies for in-line quotations of prose, as well.
  7. Regarding the citation of Shakespeare’s plays, please cite by act, scene, and line number, as I demonstrate in citing the above quote from The Winter’s Tale.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the essay or this draft.

May 5 Fri.

There will be no class meeting today. Work on your papers and prepare for the exam!


The final exam begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, 13 May. Bring to the exam the following items:

  • 2 writing implements of your choice
  • your essay: both the final draft and my graded rough draft
  • drinking water, as you won’t be allowed to leave the exam until you’re done
  • your thinking caps (I had to throw in one cliché!)

Please don’t bring anything else to the exam.

In order to prepare for the exam, you’ll want to review your class notes, the reading assignments, this class site, and the midterm exam. You should review the plays’ quotation handouts: you will be responsible for these quotes. In addition, I expect you to have a general understanding of each of the plays, the assigned reading from The Bedford Companion, and to be familiar with the following terms:

  • concordia discors
  • sprezzatura
  • Machiavel / Machiavellian
  • iambic pentameter
  • blank verse
  •  tragedy
  •  comedy
  •  quarto
  •  folio
  • agon (also: protagonist, antagonist)
  • Shakespearean & Petrarchan sonnet
  •  quatrain
  •  octave
  •  sestet
  •  holograph
  • fortune’s wheel

The exam will run approximately 90 minutes (if you’re well-prepared) and will consist of passage identification and explication; short-answer questions (on the above terms and other “general knowledge”); and two 3-4 page essays (from a choice of three essay questions).

If you have any questions about the exam, do not hesitate to contact me; either post a comment to this entry or contact me. (I’ll probably share any questions that I receive by other means than this entry’s comment form.)

May 13 Sat.

Final exam, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., in the classroom.


In Slate, June Thomas has a great account of spending time near the Globe Theatre and hearing sonnet recitation.


Thanks again for an excellent semester of “Introduction to Shakespeare.” I hope you’ve developed a greater appreciation of one of the most influential authors in English and perhaps considered how literature can play a role in your other interests. (I should probably give you some line about how I hope you’ve further developed your critical thinking skills, but that should be the goal of any class.)

By now your grades should have posted to LOCUS. As points of reference for you, here are some average grades for the class:

  • Essay (draft / final): C+ / B
  • Final exam: C+
  • Overall grade: B-

Your final papers, final exams, and any other outstanding materials are available in the English Department and will remain available until noon on Tuesday, 23 May. This stuff will be placed on the ledge above my mail box; each of you should find a file folder with your name on it.

If you’re curious about the significance of the exam numbers, check out these links: 1066, 1214 (I meant 1215), and 1380 (I meant 1381). I need to get my dates right!

Thanks again for a great semester. Have an invigorating summer!

Questions? Send me e-mail: .