Shakespeare II

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

1. Rationale

This course is offered as a companion to Shakespeare I for students who want to continue their reading of Shakespeare.  The plays chosen are related stylistically and thematically to those in Shakespeare I, and discussion will build on the background offered in that course. Included will be at least one history play and one comedy/romance.

2. Topics and Themes Emphasized

This course focuses on the literary and dramatic issues suggested in the Shakespeare I syllabus and on several ideas.  Students in Shakespeare II study a history play, and, therefore, some discussion is done of the Wars of the Roses in particular and the issue of political power in general.  

Students may be asked to read some Shakespearean criticism in connection with discussion and written analysis of the plays in the course.

3. Methods and Sample Assignments

As with Shakespeare I, 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

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.

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.

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

Henry IV Part I
Richard III
As You Like It

In addition to above “core” plays, there may be an independent reading or “Do-Over” assignment. The reading list for this unit comes from the following list:

The Tempest
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Twelfth Night (Early Brit)
Romeo and Juliet (E9)
Julius Caesar (E9)
Antony and Cleopatra


As an example of summative questions:

  • Objectives: Evaluate, Synthesize, Analyze the plays.
  • Appraise Bloom’s assertion:  “I have been urging us to see Rosalind in sequence, between Falstaff and Hamlet, just as witty and as wise but trapped neither in history with Falstaff nor in tragedy with Hamlet, and yet larger than her drama even as they cannot be confined to theirs” (211).
  • Defend or refute Tanner’s suggestion that “Shakespeare seems to discover that the real truth of history is tragedy” by examining this issue in the plays we have read this semester.
  • Explain the concept of “The play as a mirror.” How do these plays, written over 500 years ago, reflect contemporary social and political concerns?
  • Why is the fool a fundamental character type in Shakespeare’s plays?  What would be lost if there were no fools in Shakespeare’s world?

As an example of Summative Projects:

  • Comparative essay using a critical lens of your choosing
  • Research paper: (Shakespeare’s sources, historical context, etc.)
  • Scene performance:  select a favorite scene.  Can be a one-person show, or a group project.  Filmed, or live.  Demonstrate what you’ve learned this semester about direction, adaptation, performance, interpretation/critical lenses, characterization.

rev. 10/17

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