ENG 317: Shakespeare's Tragedies and Romances

Dr. Rankin 3 credits

          This course offers an advanced overview of the tragedies and romances of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Ought we agree with Harold Bloom's answer to the question, "Why Shakespeare?": "Because there is no one else"? Or (with Shakespeare's contemporary playwright Ben Jonson) ought we to approach Shakespeare as both "not for an age, but for all time" and as the embodiment of his own time? Why does Shakespeare continue to endure? Why does Shakespeare dwarf the reputations of the other playwrights who wrote during his lifetime? Focusing on the tragedies and romances, our genre-based approach to the plays will propose and evaluate answers to these questions.

          Shakespeare’s great tragedies continue to delight and puzzle readers and theatergoers. At the same time, his turn to the genre of romance late in his career has invited speculation. Why did he undertake the writing of romance? How are these plays different from the comedies, which frequently rely on romantic plots? How did they incorporate themes and structures drawn from medieval and 16th-century prose and verse romances? How did Shakespeare transform the genre of English tragedy? We will investigate Shakespeare’s treatment of a range of topics set against their cultural, literary, and political contexts. We will also emphasize the plays as texts designed for performance. Relevant themes will include ambition, art, brutality, greed, incest, insanity, language, love, madness, magic, miracles, nationalism, political intrigue, racism, regicide, religion, republican government, revenge, sexism, villainy, witchcraft, and more. Students will produce a research essay which integrates their own views on the plays with ongoing conversations in Shakespeare studies. Students will be expected to become familiar with those conversations prior to producing the essay.

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