Sunday, May 10, 2015

Willie the Shake

We've come to praise William Shakespeare -- and to bury him. Reading his works is thought to be "good" for you, but difficult to enjoy, like some sort of bitter vegetable (kale, anyone?) or pill; sometimes I refer to him as "Vitamin S." The songwriter Joni Mitchell liked to call him "Willie the Shake," as though he were some weird hipster poet or jazz musician. And he was all that: a poet, a raconteur, a capitalist who wrote plays for money, a dreamer, an improviser, a traditionalist, an innovator, and a clown. And far from doing all these things in any respectable place or manner, he wrote for the stage -- which in his day was delightfully disreputable, exiled to the south bank of the Thames along with whorehouses, gambler's dens, bear-baiting, cockfighting, and bad manners.

If Shakespeare were around today, he'd probably have written for television. It's a medium much like the stage, filled with an ample array of mini-serieses, sitcoms, docu-dramas, and costumed histories. And the idea that, four hundred years later, people would be studying the scripts of his plays would surely have astonished him, as much as it would us to imagine people in 2415 poring over scripts for The Wire, Breaking Bad, or Seinfeld.

In this course, we'll read just a few of Shakespeare's plays. We'll start with the rollicking Henry V, Shakespeare's most passionately patriotic play (Once more, to the breach, dear friends! Once more!), then the far more dark and twisted Richard III, a play made newly relevant by the discovery of its eponymous anti-hero's bones under a car park in modern Leicester, and his reburial just a few weeks ago. We'll then look at his classic comedy As You Like It, as well as the more complex, less funny, but more poignant Measure for Measure. With each play, we'll read on our own, but take time in class to go over the plot and main features, and discuss some of the more important scenes and passages. I'll also be asking you to view, on your own, several filmed adaptations of these plays.

Because this is a hybrid course, we'll only be meeting half as often as other summer classes -- one or two times per week, instead of four -- and some of our discussion will take place online, most of it here on our blog. For each play, there will be one or two fresh blog posts, with the expectation that, as you read those parts of the play, each of you will post your thoughts and comments. Once we meet, we'll set up a final schedule; if any of you have travel plans or other obligations, we will do our best to schedule around them!

I look forward to meeting you all at our first class -- please do note that the first day of class will be Wednesday May 20th (not Monday the 18th). You can also view and download the syllabus via the link at the upper right.

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