Shakespeare I

One-semester Course
Open to 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty 1-3

1. Rationale

Shakespeare is arguably the greatest author to use the English language. The course presents students with some of the major plays. “Why should we read Shakespeare?” is a question students should be able to answer for themselves by the end of the course.

The emphasis on the plays as drama is central. The primary goals of the course are to explore Shakespeare’s usage of language, place his works in their historical context and connect them to contemporary issues, and to discuss issues of performance.

In connection with the overall curriculum, in addition to the reading and analytical skills suggested earlier, the course provides intensive study of an individual important to Western cultural heritage and an author whose works illustrate most effectively some of society’s central conflicts.

2. Topics and Themes Emphasized

• Dramatic structure and interpretation.
• Psychological issues: character development, motivation, dynamics.
• Use of language and force of language.
• Philosophical issues: political, religious, metaphysical.
• Historical background; Shakespeare’s theater and times.

3. Methods and Sample Assignments

One basic method of approaching the texts is close reading. Because the language is, in some ways, unfamiliar and because the poetry is among the richest ever written, students benefit from careful and intensive study–from close examination of his uses of language and vocabulary, complexity of structure, and originality of metaphor.

In addition, the class examines and experiments with the dramatic dimensions of the plays. A central idea to remember when reading or writing about these works is that they are plays, scripts originally intended for performance. As students read them, they are asked to think of themselves as actors or directors, to picture what is happening on stage. The discussion and some of the assignments require consideration of the following questions: Where are the characters on stage? What are they doing before, as, or after they speak? Where have they just come from? What do they think of the other characters on stage with them, and how do they show those feelings? What kinds of stage directions are necessary? What kinds of scenery or props are necessary? When and where does the action take place? What are the characters doing when other characters are speaking? What tone of voice do the characters use? Students may participate in close reading of the text through performance-based activities, requiring intellectual, physical, and vocal engagement.

Also, students should consider what kinds of moral and ethical choices the characters make. What issues of good and evil are presented? What conclusions, if any, can one draw about the nature of human beings in the diverse worlds found in the plays?

4. Expectations for Students

Reading:
Students are expected to read 4-5 plays in the course. They have nightly reading assignments which they are required to do before the material is examined in class. More than one reading is necessary with such complex language and structure and for the kinds of analysis–dramatic and literary–students are asked to perform.

Writing:
Students have a paper on each play and may have other shorter papers, as well. They should also expect frequent quizzes and some in-class essays. They may have some informal writing exercises and some group writing work.

Speaking and Listening:
Students may be required to “perform” in some formal, dramatic sense. They may participate in informal improvisational pieces to enter the world of the play, or to do a close reading of a passage. They are expected to ask and respond to questions in class discussion. They are also expected to participate in smaller group discussions in class and in group projects.

Other:
Students may participate in comparative scene study as well as analysis of full productions.
Students may conference with teachers in the process of writing papers.
There is vocabulary study in the very nature of the course.

5. Reading List

Core plays include:
Hamlet
Macbeth
Othello

In addition, students may study one or two of the following:
Merchant of Venice
Midsummer Night’s Dream
Henry IV, Part 1
As You Like It
The Tempest

Several sonnets may be studied in conjunction with the plays. Students may be required to read secondary source material for papers or projects.
If Shakespeare in Production (see syllabus for Drama in Production) is offered, an effort is made for the other Shakespeare classes to read the play that is being produced. Students are also encouraged to attend area productions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Films, local productions of plays, music, visual art.

6. Bibliography

There is seemingly endless material on Shakespeare. This is a partial list of some works helpful in teaching.
Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, Jan Kott
The Bottom Translations, Jan Kott
The Theater of Essence, Jan Kott
The Actor’s Freedom, Goldman
Shakespearean Tragedy, Bradley
Prefaces to Shakespeare, Granville-Barker
The Shakespearean Revolution, Styan
Representing Shakespeare, ed. Schwatz and Kahn
The Empty Space, Brook
The Shifting Point, Brook
Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge
William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life, Schoenbaum
Shakespeare’s Holinshed, ed. Hosley
Shakespeare at Work, G.B. Harrison
Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, Rabkin
Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, Dusinberre
Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions, Harbage
The Ethic of Time, Sypher
Renaissance Refashioning, Greenblatt
Coming of Age in Shakespeare, Garber
Shakespeare and Modern Culture, Garber
Shakespeare After All, Garber
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Shapiro
Shakespeare Lexicon, Vol. 1-2, Schmidt
Will in the World, Greenblatt
Prefaces to Shakespeare, Tanner
Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare, Bate

Sample Assignment

Paper assignment on Hamlet–choose one. Three to four pages–1000 to 1200 words.

1. It has been said that Hamlet changes too much as a character from the time he leaves in Act IV to the time he returns at the beginning of Act V, and that that change gets in the way of the effect of the play. Agree or disagree, discussing Hamlet’s personality up to Act V, in Act V, and what you think is the impact of the character at the end of the play.

2. Many critics have suggested that the popularity of the play is based on the fact that all readers and audiences can identify with the character. Do you agree? Why or why not? What elements of the story, if any, do you identify with? Or, why do you think that you cannot identify with him at all?

3. Choose a secondary character in the play – Laertes, Fortinbras, Ophelia, etc. Discuss the importance of the character’s role in the play. Consider, perhaps, what the play would be missing if this character were taken out.

4. Describe how you would stage a scene from the play. You may choose any scene or part of a scene; but be sure to consider costumes, props, significant action, and the effect you are trying to create about the characters and the action of the scene. Remember to be conscious of the kind of detail that a director or an actor might use to create an effect and a mood. Consult the course syllabus for specific questions to be considered.

5. Write another scene for the play. You may write one of the scenes that is mentioned but that we do not see–Hamlet in Ophelia’s closet, Ophelia at the brook, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Hamlet on the high seas, for example. Or, you may choose to add a scene between Claudius and Gertrude before the beginning of the play, the murder of Old Hamlet, a scene between Hamlet and Horatio, Hamlet and the pirates, etc.

6. Write an entry in the journal of Horatio several weeks or months after the end of the play. What might he say about what has happened, about Fortinbras, about his role in what has occurred?

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