In this capstone course, we will be reading some of Shakespeare’s most debated political plays, such as 2 Henry VI, Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus. In these plays, Shakespeare addresses the role of the people (the commons) in the broader body politic or commonwealth. He does so in wildly varying ways that can be amusing, festive, cynical, mocking, or outrageously violent. We will compare conservative readings of Shakespeare’s plays to more recent attempts to identify a positive popular voice in both Shakespeare’s work and early modern society. Students will be asked to engage with these critical debates and develop their own position by analysing Shakespeare’s plays and selected historical documents.
Ideally, students enrolling in this course will already have taken courses in Shakespeare or early modern literature. The course is student-run and we will have individual presentations and a final writing output written in stages. Students should expect to read a substantial amount each week.
The course will be student-led and will involve independent research. As such, we will work out the exact nature of the course together in our discussions. Following an introductory discussion of early modern politics and the critical debates about the politics of Shakespeare’s plays, students will select readings that will form the basis of class presentations and discussions. (A list of initial readings will be provided before the course begins). The first assessment tasks will be class presentations, after which we will move towards writing the longer essays. Outlines and drafts will be peer-reviewed by your teacher and your peers and will help you develop the final version of your essay, which will be due at the end of semester.
The aim of this course, which should be taken towards or at the end of a student’s BA studies, is to bring together, and critically reflect upon, various skills students have learned during their time as English Studies students. In this course, we will think about ways of reading and critically analysing some of Shakespeare’s most violent and contested political plays. This will draw on the knowledge and strategies you have developed over your undergraduate literary studies, including close analysis of literary texts, historical research, and engagement with secondary criticism. The objective is to allow you to draw together, reflect upon, and celebrate your four years of English Studies through some exciting plays, good discussions, articulate written contributions, and a small collection of critical student essays.
We will meet once a week for 2 hours. We will spend time reading and discussing some of the introductory materials on our list during the add-drop period, before we move into individual student presentations and the writing of final research papers. The course is student-led: you will (in consultation with me and your peers) identify and formulate your presentation and essay topics. The final papers (written in stages) will be ‘regular’ (though somewhat longer) student papers. We will discuss how and whether we might publish these essays (for instance, on a website) during our sessions.
Course assessment is 100% coursework, consisting of 50% oral participation and presentations and 50% written contributions.
A list of readings will be provided at the beginning of the semester. It will comprise of plays by Shakespeare (including all or some of the following: 2 Henry VI, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus), early modern historical documents (such as the Homily Against Disobedience), and critical writings.