Why does Shakespeare seem to be such a big deal? Maybe you’ve heard or seen some of his work – plays or poetry – and thought it sounded archaic or just didn’t seem relevant. After all, what can words from Renaissance England say to us about the world we live in today?

In this course, we will contend with the popularity and seeming ubiquity of “the Bard” and see if we ultimately agree or disagree with his place in our Western canon and in popular culture. In addition to reading works which span the four major categories assigned to Shakespeare’s plays – histories (Henry IV: 1 & 2), tragedies (King Lear), romances (The Tempest), and comedies (As You Like It) – we will also look at some of his influences (the works of Seneca and Ovid) and his contemporaries (Marlowe, Jonson).

We will try to get a picture of Shakespeare’s own time and then contemplate what he means “in the world” today by addressing some of the claims made by scholars like Harold Bloom, Stephen Greenblatt, Ellen Caldwell, and Stephen Marche. We will also view some contemporary takes on Shakespeare such as the miniseries The Hollow Crown and the 1990s adaptation of Twelfth Night, She’s the Man.

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