Instructor: Huh | Thursday 2:00 PM-4:50 PM

Although his friend and principal rival famously declared that William Shakespeare was “not for an age but for all time,” even Ben Jonson would surely have been astonished at the extent of Shakespeare’s current celebrity: beginning as an actor and hired play-maker for a succession of acting troupes working in the relatively primitive theatres of a city that sat on the outer fringe of Europe, Shakespeare has become the most widely known writer in the world, credited by Harold Bloom with the very “invention of the human.” Not even the “death of the author” seems able to weaken his claim to immortality. 

And yet, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, the rise of what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow” and the specter of death that haunts our cultural spaces from churches to schools to nightclubs, it would be understandable for anyone to ask: why does Shakespeare even matter? And yet, as the symbol of genius, transcendence, and timelessness—a metaphor for the Greatness of Western Culture—it is imperative that we free Shakespeare from being white, male property. In addition to investigating Shakespeare’s oeuvre, this course historicizes the “whitening” of early modern European culture, offering a meditation on canon formation, deformation, and reformation and new lenses for how we might reread the canon from the margins. In this course, we will attempt to trace the historical roots of our ideas about gender, sexuality, race, class, and dis/ability by reading Shakespeare alongside contemporary texts that will help us see how the past has shaped our current circumstances. Some of the questions we will ask in this course include: what can we learn about the early modern period through these plays? How does Renaissance language accommodate (indeed, build) veracities of differences of race, gender, sexuality, and dis/ability and how can we develop an intersectional method that can read these markers in relation to one another, as well as in dialogic relation between the early modern past and our contemporary present? How does our consideration of the bodies that populate these plays (like King Lear’s wandering womb, Lady Macbeth’s cry to “unsex me here!”, Caliban’s “nature on whose nurture can never stick”, and Othello’s blackness) enable discussions of the lived realities of the individuals they stand in for, both in the worlds of the plays and by association, our own world? How does looking at the past through the lens of the present not only open up new ways of understanding history and literature but also new ways of understanding ourselves? This course will provide an intensive, inclusive environment for the study of Shakespeare, but students will also have the opportunity to move beyond the early modern period in their final projects.