Sunday, May 4, 2014

Final Exam: A Defense of Shakespeare

Final Exam Paper: A Defense of Shakespeare

For your Final Exam paper, you’re going to revise your essential thesis/approach from your Mid-Term paper with the following twist: imagine you are a professor, director, or actor who is giving a talk to an English department at University X, which is contemplating dropping Shakespeare from the curriculum.  In many universities (including ECU), the so-called “Great Books” of Canon of English Literature is under fire.  As Siobhan Kilfeather, formerly of Columbia University, wrote,

You’ve got people of mixed ability...many of them going into the sciences, and they’re asked to take a required lit course.  This is very difficult material to be read quickly...They’re all being asked to make a very real stretch when many of them can’t read a modern novel easily...people had substantial difficulties reading the texts; they couldn’t sort out the information and handle it: what it means for books to come from different periods; what it meant to move from one culture to another.  It was water off a duck’s back” (Denby, 203). 

In other words, since students have no background in reading Shakespeare (or other ‘old’ writers), we can’t possibly teach them how to do it.  They can’t relate, they can’t read it on a sophisticated level, so Shakespeare—and other canonical writers—should be abandoned for more ‘practical’ reading/writing skills.  After all, you don’t need Shakespeare to learn organic chemistry!  So your job is to show why Shakespeare is global in scope and connects to modern ideas, characters, or issues through his use of thematic connections.  Whatever you wrote about in your Mid-Term paper is the ‘frame’ for your discussion.  Revise, expand, or re-work your mid-term paper as a talk to a very specific audience (skeptical college professors) using evidence from the plays, adaptations, and critical sources.  Consider how watching Chinese opera and reading modern-day adaptations of The Tempest might play into your discussion.  How does your theme ‘translate’ in these versions, and why do we still need to know the original to see this?  

REMEMBER, you do not need to write a new paper here.  Use your Mid-Term as the “bones” of the paper, but focus it by considering your audience, and how you can prove that Shakespeare is a global, rather than a historical, author.  Try to respond to the fears of people like Dr. Kilfeather (above), who truly feel that Shakespeare is a lost art—and somewhat irrelevant to the needs of the modern undergraduate.

  • 7-8 pages at least (but you can certainly do more)
  • Should discuss at least 2 plays from class
  • Should reference/discuss at least 2 adaptations to broaden your discussion: a traditional film, a ‘global’ adaptation (Chinese Opera, foreign language Shakespeare, etc.), graphic novel, or related literary work (one of the Tempest poems, A Tempest, etc.)
  • Should use 2-3 critical articles to support your ideas, ideally from the Norton editions

Friday, April 18, 2014

Group Presentations Next Week!

It's finally here--the moment you've all been waiting for!  You get to present on the play of your dreams to audience of gregarious groundlings!  Please sign up for one of the times below--first come, first serve--or e-mail me with  your request.  I will discuss the complete schedule on Monday.  Remember that at least 2 groups can present each day, but no more than that.

W 23: No Class--Work on Presentations
F 25: Twelfth Night; Much Ado About Nothing

M 28: Titus Andronicus; Othello
W 30: Macbeth; Hamlet
F 2:  Taming of the Shrew; Romeo and Juliet; A Midsummer Night's Dream

* We won't be able to do 3 presentations in one day, so one of these will probably have to finish on our Final Exam day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

For Friday: Cesaire, A Tempest, Act III

Answer the following question as a Comment below:

C├ęsaire reduces most of Acts III-V of The Tempest to a duel between Caliban and Prospero (his Act III).  Far from fleeing the stage and promising to be good, as he does in Shakespeare’s version, Caliban has a tremendous speech (pp.61-62) which changes the entire scope of the play.  Why does Prospero decide not to leave the island, and what do you make of the line, “Well, I hate you as well!/for it is you who have made me/doubt myself for the first time” (63).  How has Caliban challenged Prospero’s power in this Act, and is Prospero “beaten” by the end of the play?  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

For Wednesday: Cesaire, A Tempest, Acts I and II

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Cesaire’s language (in translation, at least) hews close to Shakespeare’s original, though he is happy to modernize expressions and ideas to make them closer to the audience’s experience.  Where do you feel the play is most successful in modernizing (without changing the essentials) of The Tempest?  Why does this work?  How might it help us read/understand this scene in the original? 

2. How does Cesaire re-write (or expand upon) the relationship between Ariel and Caliban?  Why does he give them a scene alone, whereas in the actual play they are always in the presence of Prospero or Stephano/Trinculo?  Do you feel this is a plausible reconstruction, or is this a full-scale re-interpretation by Cesaire? 

3. Discuss the scene between Prospero and Caliban in Act I, Scene 2.  How does he make the characters and relationship between the two less ambiguous?  Additionally, how does this scene betray the author's own identity and politics?  

4. How does A Tempest compare to the other Shakespeare inspired poetry we read this week?   What ideas/interpretations does Cesaire offer that might have echoes in Browning’s poetry—or Hughes’ (for example)?  What might this say about how the late 19th/early 20th century experiences The Tempest?  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

For Friday: Criticism on The Tempest

Read ONE (at least) of the Articles below and answer 2 of the following questions:

David Lindley, "Music, Masque, and Meaning in The Tempest" (187)
Stephen Orgel, "Prospero's Wife" (201)
Peter Hulme, "Prospero and Caliban" (233) 


1. What "problem" is the author responding to in the play?  That is, how is his/her essay trying to address a specific issue that needs to be resolved in staging The Tempest that would help modern audiences "get" Shakespeare's intention?  What makes this issue so problematic?

2. Do you think this essay offers a more historical or a theoretical approach to Shakespeare?  In other words, do you feel that the author offers a more "back to the text" approach in understanding how to reach Shakespeare's intentions, or is the author trying to use modern theoretical approaches/influences to "resurrect" the play?  What makes you think this, and how successful do you feel this approach is?  Be specific.  

3. Do you feel like the essay would agree with a more radical interpretation of The Tempest as we saw in the Chinese opera production?  How would the ideas/thesis of this essay be realized in a more theatrical production?  Or do you feel the more orthodox BBC version is more in keeping with the author's views?  

4. How does the essay help you understand or appreciate The Tempest in a new light?  What ideas does the essay reveal that you either didn't consider before, or didn't 'see' from this perspective?  Be specific and reference a particular scene, moment, or character that connects to ideas in the essay. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

For Wednesday: The Tempest, Act V

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. At the beginning of Act V, Prospero swears to “break my staff,/Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,/And deeper than did ever plummet sound/I’ll drown my book” (Norton, 67).  Though he releases everyone from his magic and offers mercy, do you think he makes good on this promise?  He never does it in the play, but how should you stage the ending of the play to reflect what he does—or doesn’t do?  Has he finally retired from the ‘stage’ as the Epilogue suggests?  Or are these just words, a way to end the play in a ‘comedy’?

2. After all the business of the previous acts, Act V is very cursory and somewhat anti-climactic (as is As You Like It).  How do you think Shakespeare intended us to experience this?  Why are all the plots to murder Alonso/Prospero dissolved so quickly?  What might this suggest about the nature of the play itself?  Is this why the play is a ‘romance’ rather than a comedy or tragedy? 

3. Caliban is more or less silenced in the final act, though his final words are notably penitent: “I’ll be wise hereafter,/And seek for grace” (Norton, 76).  How should we interpret his sudden change?  Is this the forced conversion of a Shylock?  Or the practiced guile of a servant who will attempt murder and revenge again?  How should you instruct the actor to play this scene in keeping with the previous acts?  

4. Since this is Shakespeare’s final play, and there seems to be some resemblance between Shakespeare and Prospero, what other elements of the play might we be tempted to read autobiographically?  How might the characters and events of this play work as metaphors for some aspect of his life or ideas?  In other words, what might we learn about the playwright based on what he wrote—and how he developed previous themes—in this play?  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

For Monday: The Tempest, Acts III & IV (sorry for the delay!)

1. After the pageant of Juno, Ceres and Iris (a scene that is often heavily cut), Prospero informs Ferdinand that

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

How might this scene, and indeed much of the play, be a metaphor for a stage performance itself?  In Shakespeare’s last play, why might he push the boundaries of actors playing actors playing actors even further than usual?  How might this help us read or perform The Tempest

2. Much of The Tempest is clothed in dramatic effects and spectacles: Ariel entering with thunder and lightning; the dance of the shapes with the banquet; and the song and dance of Iris, Ceres, and Juno.  These are all reduced to a mere stage direction in the text, yet have to be realized dramatically in performance.  Some productions cut these entirely, or at least to a bare minimum.  How important are these moments in the play?  Why might they not work when reading, and why might underperforming (or ignoring) these moments damage Shakespeare’s vision?

3. Caliban is a very contradictory character in these Acts: on the one hand, he licks boots and plots revenge and murder; on the other, he speaks divine poetry and is certainly more sensible than his Italian lords.  Consider his famous speech when Trinculo and Stephano are terrified by the unearthly music:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Does this speech humanize Caliban?  Is this his “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech?  Do we see him speak in this vein elsewhere in these acts?  Dramatically, why would he create a monster that attempts rape and murder, yet speaks in harmonious verse?  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Short Paper #2: Re-Writing and Appropriations

Short Paper #2: Re-Writings and Appropriations

 On pages 332-350 of the Norton Critical edition of The Tempest, there are a series of poems which are re-write/appropriate elements of Shakespeare’s final play.  Since Shakespeare is truly a ‘global’ author, his works inform how we see the world—and specifically, how writers and poets see it.  Thus, they re-imagine Shakespeare through the lens of their own poetic vision, shaping Shakespeare’s characters and metaphors to encompass new worlds.  From films, Chinese opera, graphic novels, and elsewhere, Shakespeare is finding his way into forms/genres he never before imagined.

To help you understand how these re-appropriations work, I want you to choose ONE of the poems in this selection and discuss how it re-imagines/re-interprets the characters, themes, or ideas in Shakespeare’s play.  In your paper, you should do most, if not all, of the following:
  • Explain what idea or element of the play the poem is riffing on
  • Close read elements of the poem so we can ‘see’ the poet’s ideas
  • Compare this to elements/passages of The Tempest
  • Explain why the poet used The Tempest as a necessary vehicle for his/her message; in other words, why this play and not some other?
  • Consider what about The Tempest makes it such a mythic play that allows so many poets, from different times and lands, to draw their own ideas from it
 On Monday, April 15th (the day the paper is due) we will discuss this paper in class.  For once, I want you to share your work with the class, so that students who did similar poems can compare notes.  Attendance is mandatory today, so don’t skip class and turn in the paper in my box an hour or two later.  A paper that is not turned in during class (with the exception of school trips or excused absences) is late.  I’m being heavy handed here since I know some people will avoid class seeing it as a “blow off” day.  It’s not—I really want to discuss the play and share our collective knowledge and ideas.  So please come! 

REQUIREMENTS: 4-5 pages double spaced; all quotations following MLA format; cite the poems and the play using the Norton edition: ex, (Norton, 332); due Monday, April 15th in class.  As always, please e-mail me with questions or talk to me in my office. 

For Wednesday: The Tempest, Act 2

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Why does Caliban mistake Stephano for a god—or for the “man in the moon”?  How does this oddly comic scene affect our view of Caliban, and what echoes does it carry of the early encounters of European explorers in the New World?

2. Discuss the humor in The Tempest, particularly in Act 2.1, where elaborate verbal puns totally arrest the plot for several pages/minutes.  How does this act contrast with Act 1, and why might Shakespeare introduce so many seemingly interchangeable sailors speaking so much ludicrous (if witty) prose?

3. How is Antonio something of a mirror-image of his brother, Prospero?  What actions does he try to set in motion in Act 2.1, and how do these mimic what we saw with his brother in Act 1.2?  How does he, like Prospero, reveal who he is and what his motives are to the audience? 

4. What is Caliban: a monster, a human—something in-between?.  Note that Trinculo describes him as “legged like a man, and his fins like arms” (37).  Is this an accurate description of him, or does it suggest Trinculo’s inability to see someone utterly unlike himself?  Consider that the Aztecs who encountered Cortez and his men thought them four-legged beasts, not understanding they rode upon horses.  How should Caliban appear on-stage for the play to work in your eyes?  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Shakespeare Set to Music

NOTE: The questions for Act One of The Tempest are in the post below this one

I'm posting an interesting NY Times article about why Shakespeare is so suited for dance: more ballets have been based on Shakespeare than probably any other writer in history.  On the one hand, this suggests that, like Chinese Opera, Shakespeare can be translated visually--either in visual metaphors, or in the spectacle that his theatre naturally lends itself to.  However, unlike Chinese Opera, we lose all language--everything must be spoken in dance.  What do we lose and gain in this approach?  Is it acceptable as Shakespeare, or is it simply something based on Shakespeare, the same way Tchaikovsky's famous overture to Romeo and Juliet suggests, rather than performs, Shakespeare's text.

You can read the article here:

ALSO: Shakespeare is a natural draw for classical composers, who have created ballets, operas, and orchestral works based on his plays.  Here are a few of the most significant ones that have become almost as popular as the plays themselves:

Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Overture and Incidental Music (he wrote the overture to evoke the piece at age 16; decades later, he was commissioned to write incidental music to accompany the play, and used his overture as a basis: the famous "wedding march" that we hear at most weddings comes from this music)

Berlioz, Beatrice et Benedict, Overture: this is an overture to Berlioz's opera based on Much Ado About Nothing.  It captures the high spirits and romance of this wonderful comedy, and the adventurous can go on and listen to the entire opera.  (Note: There are many operas based on Shakespeare, notably those by Verdi, who wrote one for Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Othello).

Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet Overture, a highly successful 'adaptation' of Shakespeare musically, opening with a solemn theme that represents Friar Lawrence, which soon explodes into the fighting of both houses, and before long, the super famous love theme emerges that has been parodied in everything from soap commercials to Spongebob.  If you can listen with fresh ears, it's an amazing piece.

Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, ballet: Prokofiev wrote not the first, but the greatest ballet based on the entire play.  It is an extremely moving experience to watch the entire thing, and musically, it evokes much of Shakespeare's language and power.  Especially powerful is the Final Act, where Romeo tries to make a sleeping Juliet dance with him--but she merely slumps over lifelessly.  This scene makes sense like never before.

Sibelius, The Tempest, Incidental Music: Sibelius was an extremely famous Finnish composer in the early 20th century, and he was asked to create music that could suit this very musical play--including the many songs sung by Ariel, Caliban, and others.  He succeeded marvelously with dark, mystical sounding music which occasionally evokes the music of Shakespeare's time.  One of the most powerful pieces is Ariel's song in Act One, "Full fathom five thy father lies" (great alliteration!), which is full of haunting doom, and helps us understand Ferdinand's desolation.

Tchaikovsky, The Tempest, Tone Poem: A "tone poem" is an impression of a poem or story set to music, and Tchaikovsky excelled at these.  Here he took on Shakespeare's last play, opening with a eerie, ferocious storm scene before relaxing into a theme for Miranda and Ferdinand.  It's a lot like the Romeo and Juliet overture, and takes about as long to play out.  (Note: Tchaikovsky also wrote a piece for Hamlet, as well as incidental music for a production, which is equally good--a dark, exciting score).

Vaughan-Williams, Serenade to Music (Merchant of Venice): Not many composers have been drawn to The Merchant of Venice, but Vaughan-Willliams, a 20th century English composer, famously set part of the Final Act of the play (where Lorenzo and Jessica speak of music) to music in a draw-joppingly beautiful piece with soloists, chorus and orchestra.  It belies the darkness and unsettled nature of the final act, but it does capture the essential 'music' of Shakespeare's play.

Walton, Henry V film score: one of the most famous Shakespearean film scores, this was written for Sir Lawrence Olivier's war-time film of Henry V, and contains some of William Walton's most rousing, touching music.  (Note: Patrick Doyle wrote another famous Henry score for Branagh's 1989 version).

Shostakovich, Hamlet, film score: written by a 20th century Russian master, this score is both chilling, humorous, and exciting by turns.  His greatest film score set the standard for all Shakespearean film scores to come, and makes amazing listening in its own right.  Written for a 1960's Russian version which remains an exciting adaptation of this very long and tricky play.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

For Monday: The Tempest, Act One

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Compare Act One, Scene One to what we saw of the Chinese Opera production of The Tempest (which covered almost all of the First Act).  How effectively do you feel the opera captured the essence of the characters, the drama, or the ‘music’ of the play?  What elements resisted or escaped translation?  Did the opera help you understand or appreciate the opening act...or was it like reading an entirely different play?

2. The Tempest is classified as a ‘romance,’ which is a very loose category for Shakespeare’s late plays which defy categorization as a comedy, tragedy, etc.  Based on the first act, what makes this play distinct from the previous plays we’ve read (if anything)?  Is there some quality of the plot, characters, or language which makes it feel like a new genre?  How useful is the term ‘romance’ in reading this play?

3. Caliban is arguably the greatest character in The Tempest, and is unlike almost anyone else in Shakespeare.  He enters the play spewing curses, yet he speaks in verse and offers some of the best lines in the play—ex: “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse” (Norton, 19).  How does Shakespeare present Caliban to us in the first act?  Is he more a Shylock or an Edmund?  Why does everyone in the play dismiss him as a “villain”—and should we?

4. Having just read King Lear, how does Prospero strike you as another deposed king?  What kind of man is he, and how does his language offer us a portrait of a very ambiguous protagonist—if not an outright schemer in his own right?  Consider how he, too, has three ‘daughters’—Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban (maybe not all women, but he does preside over them like a tyrannical father).  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

For Friday: Why Does Everyone Need Chinese Opera?

For those of you who want to finish watching Wu's production of The Tempest, click here to watch all 2 hours and 50 minutes of it!  You can also find links to dozens of other Shakespearean 'global' productions at the Global Shakespeares website, some of which you should consider watching for your group presentations.

Be sure to read the excerpt from Huang's book, Chinese Shakespeares, entitled "Why Does Everyone Need Chinese Opera?"  As you read it, consider what Huang feels are the useful and dangerous aspects to staging Shakespeare in this Chinese art form.  How can it be effective and help us see a new (or possibly, more traditional) Shakespeare...and how can it detract from the true power of Shakespeare's art as well as the tradition of xiqu itself?  

Monday, March 24, 2014

For Wednesday/Friday: Chinese Shakespeares

On Monday we watched a short documentary on Chinese opera and discussed some similarities between this unique art form and the theater of Shakespeare's day.  The question is, what might we gain from making Shakespeare more symbolic (and less realistic) and more about spectacle (than mere language)?  In his own day, music played a very important role in the theater, as did sword fighting, dance, and other extraneous elements.  To test this theory, we will watch a Chinese opera version of The Tempest  in class and will discuss it on Friday.  I will also have a short article for you to read for Friday's class as well.

NOTE: Be sure to start meeting or e-mailing one another in your groups to allocate tasks.  I will meet with each group next week to determine where you are in the process, and kick you collectively in the you-know-what if nothing is being done.  The end of the semester draws apace, so start planning your group projects!  It should be fun--not a chore.

If you missed the documentary, you can learn about Chinese opera here:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Criticism: Nahum Tate, Samuel Johnson, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, A.C. Bradley, Jan Kott, Peter Brook (pp.169-181)

If you still haven’t answered TWO blog posts for King Lear, use this post to catch up.  Remember that your course grade is based on your class participation in these blogs (see the syllabus), so if you ignore the blogs you also ignore your grade!  Please join us and participate in this class. 

Respond to TWO of the following as a comment below...

1. Many of the writers argue that Lear is a play that cannot be adequately staged, but is better read on the page or simply imagined.  Why is this?  What arguments do they offer for Lear being an ‘untheatrical’ play?  Do you agree?  Is Lear Shakespeare’s greatest ‘written’ rather than staged play? 

2. Nahum Tate was responsible for revising Lear and making it palatable for 18th century audiences by saving Lear and Cordelia and marrying her off to Edgar.  What reasons does he offer for this revision, and how might others, such as Lamb, argue with this decision?

3. Why does Peter Brook argue that “the absence of scenery in the Elizabethan theatre was one of its greatest freedoms?” (180).  What did the lack of scenery and effects allow Shakespeare to do—or the audience to see?  Why does Jan Kott agree with this assessment?  Why should a ‘modern’ Shakespeare (for them) be a stripped-down Shakespeare, and if possible, a staged rather than a filmed Shakespeare? 

4. Samuel Johnson notes that the “publick” decides which Shakespeare they want, and even if they prefer Tate, the critics have to quietly accept the fact.  Who should get to decide how to stage Shakespeare and what elements—or texts—to promote?  In other words, is Shakespeare primarily for the experts (the critics, actors) or the audience (even those who know relatively little about Shakespeare)?  

Friday, March 7, 2014

For Monday: King Lear, Act V

Answer the following question as a “Comment” below:

In Act V, we get the bloody conclusion to one of Shakespeare’s bleakest plays: Regan is poisoned, Goneril kills herself, Edmund is slain by Edgar, Gloucester’s heart breaks, Cordelia is hung, and Lear dies at her side.  However, many of these deaths were Shakespeare original invention, as the sources for King Lear (including a play of the same name) have her surviving, and subsequent performances of the play restored a happy ending (see page 258-259 for Tate’s revision of Lear which played for 200 years).  Why do you think Shakespeare insisted on doing away with Cordelia, ending the play in utter defeat and despair?  Do we want—or hope for—a happy ending in this play?  Is it another attempt to frustrate our desires or expectations (giving us a play not as we like it?).  Or does Cordelia have to die to make sense of the play? 

Also consider who does survive: Kent, Edgar, and Albany.  Why these men?  And what do you make of Edgar’s enigmatic final line: “The oldest have borne most; we that are young/Shall never see so much, nor live so long” (114)?  Why does he say this when both Kent and Albany are far from “young”?  Or is this statement about some other kind of youth/age?  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For Friday: King Lear, Act IV

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below...

1. Read Lear’s speech on page 90 (4.6) that begins “Ay, every inch a king!” carefully.  After emerging from the storm, Lear seems both mad and enlightened, speaking nonsense and ‘sense’ in equal terms.  In this speech, however, he goes on a misogynist rant against women and seemingly blames them for his downfall.  What is he specifically accusing women of here, and does this seem to reflect some ‘truth’ of the play or the playwright?  In other words, is this madness or a satirical barb for his audience?  (To those student from Brit I last semester, consider how this speech relates to the "Dark Lady" sonnets).  

2. In some ways, Cordelia and Edgar are mirror images of one another, each one caring for a damaged father, both exiled, and both of them acting (to some extent).  How might one character help us ‘read’ the other, and how do their paths cross metaphorically—or linguistically—in Act IV? 

3. How do we read the marital discord between Albany and Goneril in Act 4, Scene 2?  Is this the first time he’s seeing his wife like this—or has this knowledge been long known by him?  Is she surprised by his sudden sympathy for her father?  How does the language of their argument help us see them both—and particularly Goneril—in a new light?

4. In Goneril’s scene with Edmund (Act 4, Scene 2), she says, “Oh, the difference of man and man/To thee a woman’s services are due;/My Fool usurps my body” (Norton, 78).  How does her definition of man, a definition defined against her husband, help us understand why she and her sister are so drawn to Edmund—and so angry toward their father?  (and yes, perhaps there is a Freudian element to this moment!) 

Schedule Changes and Mid-Term Paper Assignment

Because of the Snow Day, I've had to revamp the schedule and have shuffled several things around.  Instead of watching a film version of Lear, we'll simply watch another scene or two from the Trevor Nunn version (with Ian McKellen) in class, and move right to a film version of The Tempest when we return from break. NOTE that Presentations aren't too far away...start discussing them with your groups and divide the workload.  It won't be too difficult, but you need to pool your resources and then decide on an 'angle' of interpretation for modernizing the play.  See the schedule below for details:

M 3:       [Snow day]
W 5:       King Lear,  Acts 2-3
F 7:        King Lear, Act 4

M 10:     King Lear, Act 5
W 12:     Supplemental Readings
F 14:       Supplemental Readings/Mid-Term Paper due

[M 17-F 21: Spring Break]

M 24      Introduction to Chinese Opera
W 26      The Tempest (2011, Oh)
F 28:      The Tempest (2011, Oh)

M 31:     Film Discussion

W 2:       The Tempest, Acts 1-2
F 4:         The Tempest, Act 3

M 7:       The Tempest, Acts 4-5
W 9:       Supplemental readings TBA
F 11:       Introduction to Postcolonialism

M 15:     Cesarie, A Tempest/Paper #2 due
W 17:     Cesaire, A Tempest
F 18:      Cesaire, A Tempest

M 22:     Production Presentations
W 23:     Presentations continued
F 25:      Presentations continued

M 28:     Presentations continued
W 30:    Presentations continued

F 2:         Final Thoughts
 Final paper due Wednesday, May 7th @ 5pm

Mid-Term Paper Paper/Abstract: Theme and Variations
Many writers in the course of his or her career strike on a series of pet themes which they then develop over the course of several works.  For some, it is like working out an intricate equation, while for others it becomes an obsession, an idea that he/she simply cannot resist and attempts to view from as many angles—and through the guises of as many characters—as possible.  Shakespeare is unique in this respect since he wrote such a large body of plays, many of which share key themes, ideas, characters, and points of view.  As Philip Edwards writes in his book Shakespeare: A Writer’s Progress, “The diversity of Shakespeare’s plays is quite astonishing...[yet] at the same time, one play constantly reminds us of others, and very often we have the feeling of one play building on another” (27). 

For your Mid-Term paper, which I regard as an “abstract” for your final paper, I want you to trace a theme or a pair of related themes in at least TWO of the three plays we’ve read so far (As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear).  By “theme” I mean a specific idea, character, plot development, philosophy, sentiment, or poetic element.  What you decide to examine is up to you, but it should be something specific, intriguing, and requiring close reading and research to make sense of.  For example, don’t merely say “Shakespeare likes to write strong women,” or “Shakespeare writes comedies that are also tragic.”  Find some element of these ideas that is more specific and might help us understand why the women are strong, or why the comedies turn tragic, etc. 

In your paper, I want you to examine how this theme/idea is stated, developed, and/or transformed from one play to another.  You must be aware of when each play was written to do this effectively (for example, is one play a revision of an earlier one in this regard?). As Phillip Edwards reminds us, “[Shakespeare] was never interested in writing the same place twice...two, three, or four plays considered as a group will assert something that none of them taken alone asserts” (27).  So try to listen for the changes in each play, how variations creep into the theme as Shakespeare experiments with it, takes it apart, and perhaps puts it back together as a completely new idea.  To this end, you might consider looking at two themes that seem different, but are actually connected through the characters, plot, or language. 

Here are some general possibilities you might consider exploring in more detail:
Sex and Love; Female/Male Friendship; The Language of Love; Justice and Mercy; The “Other” vs. Society; Cross-Dressing Women; The Role of Masks; The Family; Flattery and Deceit; Fools and Servants; Country vs. City (or Nature vs. Man); Symbol vs. Reality, etc.  However, these are only suggestions—you are not required to develop any of them.  Be curious, attentive, and find your own! 

  • The Paper should be at least 5-6 pages double spaced (this is a minimum, not a maximum requirement)
  • You must use close readings/discussions of at least 2 plays
  • You should use at least 3-4 secondary sources, including filmed versions, adaptations, articles from the Norton Critical editions, or other sources you’ve discovered from your Group research (however, don’t use 3-4 films and no articles)
  • DUE FRIDAY, MARCH 14th (the Friday before Spring Break)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

For Monday: King Lear, Acts 2 & 3

Answer TWO of the following as comments below:

1. In Act 2, Scene 4, when Regan and Goneril decide to openly defy their father’s demands, Lear exclaims “I gave you all” (52).  This echoes his later line in the storm when he proclaims, “I am a man/More sinned against than sinning” (58).  Do we agree with Lear here; has he been a good and selfless father?  Or is this line simply meant to be read, “whatever I did in the past, I finally gave you all my land, so what more do you want?”  Do we have any sympathy for the daughters here?  Is this a betrayal—or an ironic reversal of the events of Act 1, Scene 1?  

2. How do you account for the extreme cruelty of Act 3, Scene 7, where both sisters and Regan’s husband, Cornwall, gang up on Gloucester?  Though the sisters may have seemed cruel earlier in the play, here they are truly sadistic, taking glee in plucking Gloucester’s beard and removing his eyes.  Why do they do this, and how might earlier scenes have prepared us for this (or explained their motivation)? 

3. Act 3, Scene 6, the so-called “trial scene” only appears in the early quarto version of the play (published in a cheap version around 1608).  The authentic version of Lear was published in the complete version of Shakespeare’s works, the Folio version, in 1623, and this entire scene is missing.  Either Shakespeare thought the better of it and cut it or it simply got lost in translation.  The editors of this version, though following the Folio, decided to reinstate it.  What do we gain from having this scene in the play?  Does it underline or foreshadow important themes or events in the play?  Or is it too much of the same, including a lot of “nothing”?  Consider also how the Manga King Lear uses but considerably shortens this scene. 

4. What do you think Edgar’s role in the play is as “Poor Tom”?  Though he has some of the craziest lines in the play, he is clearly acting, as he pops out of character at the End of 3.6 to talk to the audience.  Is he a foil to Lear?  A rival to the Fool?  Or a mirror to Cordelia (especially if she is the Fool)?  Like Jacques,  is he essential to the story, or is he simply a minor embellishment, fascinating but arguably 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

For Friday: King Lear, Act 1

NOTE: I decided to change our emphasis from reading/discussing Acts 1-2 to simply reading Act 1, since so much happens.  We'll pick up 2-3 for Monday to give you a little extra time, since there's so much to digest in this play, even after reading the graphic novel version.

Answer TWO of the following as a comment below:

1. What obvious or significant changes do you notice between the graphic novel's 'Act 1' and the play's Act 1? Consider passages/lines that are dropped, or other language that the play emphasizes that the novel did not. What makes the textual experience so different?  Or do you feel, in general, it was an effective translation?  

2. As always, note when blank verse becomes prose in this play.  Who speaks prose and when?  Why might it be a significant change for us to see/hear?  Also consider that the graphic novel can't really capture this shift of language, which could seriously change what we understand (or are meant to understand) in the play.

3. In Act 1, Scene 1, Regan notes that Lear "hath ever but slenderly known himself" (13).  Based on this reading, how might Lear's madness stem less from age or illness than a simple lack of identity?  How is his identity challenged in the first act, and how does he respond to these challenges?  What does he think "he" is?  Why do others disagree?

4. Much of Act 1 seems to be about the stagecraft of society: that is, the "ceremony" of functioning in society, and how little room we have to improvise our own lines.  This is a lifelong concern for Shakespeare, seen notably in Sonnet 23, when he writes

So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burden of mine own love's might.

How might this Sonnet echo other lines/passages in the play and help us understand why his (apparently) most loyal subjects refuse to obey his will?  Conversely, what might it mean to be too eager to play one's part, even for the 'right' reasons?  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

For Monday/Wednesday: Manga Shakespeare's King Lear

On Friday, I discussed why teaching Shakespeare through the medium of graphic novels/comics might be an effective way of 'staging' it for students new to Shakespeare, or even to anyone reluctant to read a Shakespearean play.  Remember that comics are not a genre of literature (like science fiction, horror, or romance) but a form of literature (like novels, plays, poems, etc.).  This means that they are simply a way of telling a story with their own unique conventions, grammar, and symbols--some of which are uniquely qualified (perhaps more than a normal book) to translate Shakespeare's theatre to the page.  

For most of next week, we'll read The Manga Shakespeare: King Lear as an example of a truly 'Global Shakespeare.'  This work combines the comic book format with the Japanese manga style with a setting completely removed from Shakespeare's original--18th century America before the Revolutionary War (reminiscent of James Fennimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales--The Last of the Mohicans, The Pioneers, etc.).  

By Wednesday, I want you to post ONE comment answering the following question below:

Close read a specific passage that you feel effectively translates Shakespeare from the flat page to the graphic novel format.  How does this passage help us 'see' the characters, the staging, the ideas, the symbolism, or the language in a way that we might miss (or a younger student might miss) simply reading it on the page?  Consider also the word + image relationships (we'll talk a lot about this on Monday) and how it helps tell the story on the 'stage' of a comic book.  When discussing your passage, be sure to describe the images as well as the words so that we can understand how you're reading the comic as a whole.  Remember that images are not primarily illustrations but a means of storytelling in their own right; there are always 2 stories going on in a comic--the story of the images and the story of the words.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

For Wednesday: Critical Readings of The Merchant of Venice

For Wednesday's class, read AT LEAST ONE of the following essays in the back of our Norton edition of The Merchant of Venice, and respond to TWO of the questions that follow.  This will form the basis of our discussion on Friday.  

The essays--read at least ONE of the following:
  • Cohen, “Shylock and the Idea of the Jew” (193)
  • Shapiro, “Circumcision and the Pound of Flesh” (226)
  • Sinfield, “How to Read The Merchant of Venice Without Being Heterosexist” (270)
  • Desai, “Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: Whose Mislike?  Portia’s?  Shakespeare’s?  Or That of His Age?” (304)

1. What "problem" is the author responding to in the play?  That is, how is his/her essay trying to address a specific issue that needs to be resolved in staging The Merchant of Venice that would help modern audiences "get" Shakespeare's intention?  What makes this issue so problematic?

2. Do you think this essay offers a more historical or a theoretical approach to Shakespeare?  In other words, do you feel that the author offers a more "back to the text" approach in understanding how to reach Shakespeare's intentions, or is the author trying to use modern theoretical approaches/influences to "resurrect" the play?  What makes you think this, and how successful do you feel this approach is?  Be specific.  

3. Do you feel like the essay would agree with Radford's (or Pacino’s) interpretation of The Merchant of Venice/Shylock?  Could we imagine that Radford had read this essay before filming his version--does the essay illuminate his version in particular?  Or conversely, do you think Radford should have read this essay before film his version?  What might have changed or been improved?  Or, perhaps, what advice did Radford wisely ignore?  Again, be specific and point to examples in the essay and film.  

4. How does the essay help you understand or appreciate The Merchant of Venice in a new light?  What ideas does the essay reveal that you either didn't consider before, or didn't 'see' from this perspective?  Be specific and reference a particular scene, moment, or character that connects to ideas in the essay. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

For Friday: The Merchant of Venice, Acts 4 & 5

[Above: one of my favorite actors, F. Murray Abraham's Shylock (Salieri in Amadeus) during the famous trial scene, Act 4.1.  Read an interview with Abraham about performing Shylock in the 21st century: 

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Discuss the humor in Act 4, Scene 1: though a tense, nail-biting scene, it is shot through with curious bits of humor and satire.  What should be played for laughs?  Do the laughs threaten to derail the tragedy (if it is tragic)?  Who are we laughing at—or with?  And what kind of humor is it? 

2. In the showdown between Shylock and Portia, she tells him, “Though justice be thy plea, consider this--/That in the course of justice none of us/Should see salvation” (59).  What does she mean by this, and how might this change how we read the entire scene—and indeed, much of the play itself?  Does this statement condemn or somewhat exonerate Shylock? 

3. Is Antonio redeemed in Act 4.1?  For many he becomes pitiable, and I doubt few audiences want to see him skewered (well, maybe a few...).  Is he changed by the end of the play?  Does he grant Shylock mercy?  Does he repent in some manner for his crimes?  Or does he glare triumphantly over Shylock’s spoiled corpse? 

4. Act 5, Scene 1 is a strange scene, as it focuses on the power of music and its connection to love.  Lorenzo claims that “The man that hath no music in himself...Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils” (69), while Portia remarks that music “sounds much sweeter than by day...How many things by season seasoned are/To their right praise and true perfection!” (69).  What do you make of all this?  How is music being used/discussed here, and how might it reflect on the actions of the play—or the enchanted world of Belmont? 

5. Is the resolution of the ring trick a satisfying way to end this play?  In other words, after what happened in Act 4, The Merchant of Venice seems to end as a farce—“I slept with the doctor, tee-hee!” Why do you think Shakespeare wanted this ending?  How does it end the play, and is it really as light and comic as many productions have staged it? 

Short Paper #1 assignment

Short Paper #1: All the Men and Women Players

For your first paper, I want you to examine ONE of Shakespeare’s characters (from the two comedies) from a ‘global’ perspective.  That is, what makes this character universal in some sense, able to translate from late 16th/early 17th century England into playhouses from England to America and beyond?  Where do we see this character in a ‘modern’ light, or in a way that translates easily to a modern context?  In the same sense, how might this character lend themselves to modern ideas—feminism, existentialism, modernism, etc.—even if this wasn’t exactly what Shakespeare intended?  If we were adapting this play into a modern production, which character gives us the best “in” to our 21st century sensibilities? 

You can choose ANY character from the first two plays to examine; obvious examples might be Rosalind, Jacques, Portia, Bassanio, and Shylock.  However, don’t forget seemingly minor characters that have major roles in their plays such as Orlando, Touchstone, Jessica, Lancelot, and Antonio.  Imagine that you are helping an actor prepare for his/her role in seeing the ‘global’ perspective of this character—rather than a staid, Elizabethan museum piece.  Use a close reading of short, specific passages to help us ‘see’ the character: where do we see him/her speaking, acting, becoming, or hinting at global ideas?  Be sure to focus on the character’s LANGUAGE since this is how Shakespeare clothes his characters.  Don’t summarize what they say and do—show us

ALSO: To help you discuss the global aspect/issues of this character, use at least 2 secondary sources, which includes essays in the Norton edition of both plays and/or Branagh and Radford’s films of each play.  How do the films capture these modern aspects of the character?  Or, how do the essays highlight critical historical/theoretical ideas that can be embodied/illustrated in this character?  You must quote from the articles and reference specific moments in the films for this to count—don’t just write, “Portia acts with great confidence in Radford’s film.”  Show us where—and how. 

  • 4-5 pages double spaced
  • Quotation: you must quote from the play in the form of close reading to establish the character’s global characteristics
  • At least 2 secondary sources: from the articles and the films (you can use
  • Cite all primary and secondary sources according to MLA format; you can find the citation information for both films online
  • DUE Friday, February 21st by 5pm (hard copy, not e-mail)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NOTE: Questions for Wednesday are a few posts down...

I've posted a few group resource materials on top of the questions for Wednesday, but if you choose the "Sidebar" viewing option (which should be the default viewing option for this site), you can see all the posts on the left side of your screen.  If not, you have to scroll down to find the questions.  But I assure you, there are there, so don't give up looking for them!  Also, be sure to find your group's resource post and think about contacting your group members soon so you can divvy up the research tasks. 

See you Wednesday!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Resources for Twelfth Night Group

Twelfth Night Group
(Janne, Robert, Catherine)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare site:

Link to a production of Twelfth Night directed by Branagh:

Link to a scene from the 2012 Shakespeare’s Globe All-Male production of Twelfth Night, featuring Stephen Fry as Malvolio (there are other clips on You Tube as well, and this performance is available on DVD):

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s page on Twelfth Night, with clips, links, and photos from various productions, including a recent 2012 production (not the one above):

We also have various books on Twelfth Night in our library, including critical essays on the play—check the 4th floor stacks. 

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for The Taming of the Shrew Group

The Taming of the Shrew Group
(Lisa, Teresa, Ashley, Ammi)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare site:

Link to the full version of 10 Things I Hate About You, a high school comedy loosely modeled on The Taming of the Shrew:

The Royal Shakespeare’s page on The Taming of the Shrew, including pictures, clips, and links to numerous productions, including the recent 2012 performance:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

Resources for Othello Group

Othello Group
(Jessi, Melissa, Cayla)

Links to modern productions from MIT’s Global Shakespeare site:

Complete version of Branagh’s 1995 Othello (in which he plays Iago as well):

Great live performance of Othello at the Globe Theatre, 2007 (in our library):

Trailer for O, a 2001 film based loosely on Othello, set in an American high school:

Share e-mail addresses on this site and other information as “comments,” and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.  Good luck!

For Wednesday: The Merchant of Venice, Act Three

[at left: Patrick Stewart as Shylock in the 2011 RSC production of The Merchant of Venice; click here for more photos and links:

Answer TWO of the following...

1. The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, with a preponderance of verse and rhymes—especially rhyming couplets.  This occurs most notably in Belmont, especially in Act 3, Scene 2, between Bassanio and Portia.  What do you make of all the rhymes and the self-consciously musical verse?  How does this affect how we read/hear the play and understand the characters and their relationships?

2. Discuss your reading of Portia as she appears both in the previous acts and in Act 3.  Is she the true ‘hero’ of the play, able to manipulate men and choose her own destiny?  Or is she witty but ineffectual, desperate to find a good husband and enslaved by her father’s curse?  Are we supposed to relate to her/like her?  Do we laugh at her suitors with her, or does this make her appear sour and imperious? 

3. I suggested on Monday that there might be more than one Shylock in this play, which the character prompts—both Shylock and “Jew”—seem to suggest.  How do you read this, specifically in light of Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3, Scene 1?  Is this Shylock consistent with the Shylock we see elsewhere in the play, and particularly in Act 3, Scene 3, where he appears as “Jew” throughout?  Or is Shakespeare simply giving us a complex character who (like many of us) is simply more than the sum of his parts? 

4. Act 3, Scene 5 is a very odd, brief scene, as it gives center stage to three minor characters: Lancelot, Jessica, and Lorenzo.  What is the gist of this scene, particularly as it relates to Jessica and her position in the Christian world?  Do we believe the words of Lancelot, as the play’s ‘fool’?  Also note that the lovers switch from prose to verse in this scene; how do you understand this subtle shift of language?  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Questions for Acts 1 and 2 of The Merchant of Venice

Close Reading Questions for Acts 1 & 2 of The Merchant of Venice

Answer TWO of the following...

1. In general, discuss the tonal difference between the scenes in Venice and those in Belmont.  Why might we argue that these worlds seem to inhabit two entirely different plays?  Is it too much to argue that Venice is the ‘tragedy’ and Belmont the ‘comedy’?  Are there specific reasons for making this case?

2. As in As You Like It, how can we understand character relationships through the use of verse and prose?  Who speaks what and when?  Focus on a specific moment when the difference between prose and verse matters. 

3. The 2004 Radford version of The Merchant of Venice seemed to play up the homoerotic possibility between Antonio and Bassanio.  Do we see any hints of this in the text itself?  Consider specifically Act 1, Scene 1, when Bassanio tells Antonio of his plan to woo Portia.  Since there are no stage directions but only language, what does the language tell us—or hint at—if anything? 

4. Reading the bare text of Shylock, does he come across as a human being or a caricature?  What lines might give him unexpected depth—or comic buffoonery?  How might Shakespeare want him to be read/played in a specific scene?  Do you think Pacinio was faithful to the text in this regard, or did he add too much 20th century perspective on his character? 

5. The Merchant of Venice seems to have a lot of superfluous male characters, such as the frustratingly similarly named Salerio and Salanio, as well as Gratiano, Lorenzo, and even Lancelot, the clown.  Why are all these characters here, milling about?  What do some—or all—of them add to the atmosphere of the play?  Are their lines important?  Do they help us read the major players, or some other aspect of the play?  Are the nods to comic convention, or are they from a much darker play entirely?