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EN935 Shakespeare in History


Tutor: Christian Smith

Autumn Term: Friday 12-2pm

The central purpose of this module is to encourage students to combine detailed critical response to particular texts with a sense of the dynamic relations between literature and history. The first half of the term will consider Shakespeare in relation to the history of his own time, the second half his place in later histories. This module will explore the dialectical relationship between Shakespeare's plays and the development of intellectual history including literary criticism and Critical Theory.

1. Methods: Tillyardian world-picture, Greenblattian New Historicism, Presentism.

2. Titus Andronicus and the idea of Rome.

3. Love’s Labour’s Lost and the critique of both neo-Platonism and neo-Stoicism.

4. Richard II and the political ideology of the Essex circle.

5. Montaigne and The Tempest.

6. Dr Johnson’s Shakespeare: on common sense. Focus on King Lear.

7. Shakespeare and the idea of Romanticism. Focus on Hamlet.

8. Marxist Shakespeares/Shakespearean Marx. Focus on Timon of Athens.

9. Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: Focus on The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and Hamlet.

10. Shakespeare and Dialectics: Focus on Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A preliminary, sceptical reading of Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture, and Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, is advised, together with an initial encounter with Montaigne’s Essays. Unfortunately the two valuable Penguin anthologies, Dr Johnson on Shakespeare and The Romantics on Shakespeare are both out of print: look out for second-hand copies on, e.g.,, but xeroxes of key passages will be provided when necessary. Further preliminary reading suggestions can be emailed to potentially interested students: