Shakespeare Now (H) (1S)


Shakespeare’s contemporary (and rival playwright) Ben Jonson famously declared that Shakespeare “was not of an age but for all time!” What Jonson meant, I think, was that Shakespeare’s works transcended their particular time and space (London, 1588ish-1616ish) to grapple with more “universal” human themes, such as power, sexuality and gender dynamics, otherness and identity. But much of the best literary criticism in the last 40 years has shown that Shakespeare absolutely was “of his time.” And Shakespeare’s plays have also proved remarkably adaptable as history has marched forward. For hundreds of years his plays have been performed and transformed to suit very, very different moments in countries across the world: from pre-Civil War America to the postcolonial Caribbean, from Postwar Japan to post-9/11 England.

This course engages with four plays in four different ways: Shakespeare’s Now (Historicism, where we ask about the context in which Shakespeare actually wrote and performed); Shakespeare in History (where we look at an important adaptation of a play - say, Aimé Césaire’s “A Tempest” and decolonization); Shakespeare On screen (a film, such as Kurasawa’s Ran, a rewriting of King Lear); and Shakespeare RIGHT NOW (where we put on a play and decide how to make it relevant to 2023-24). Likely plays might include As You Like It (1599), Hamlet (1600), Othello (1603-04), Measure for Measure (1604), King Lear (1606) or The Tempest (1612).