X478 • 3 semester units in English
The richness of Mediterranean culture and history was fundamental to Shakespeare’s creative imagination and provided him with some of his most unforgettable stories and characters. Explore Shakespeare’s writing across the whole span of his dramatic career. The curriculum encompasses the fast-paced, uproarious action of The Comedy of Errors (set in Ephesus), the fairies and lovers of the Athenian forest (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) , the romance and heartbreak of The Merchant of Venice; the Trojan tragedy of Troilus and Cressida, and Prospero’s magic island in The Tempest,which lies somewhere between Tunis and Naples.
As you explore the distant, imagined countries of Shakespeare’s Mediterranean you discover how important ancient myth, stories from ancient Rome, Italian Renaissance writers and artists, and contemporary traveller’s tales were in forging Elizabethan and Jacobean culture.
Shakespeare’s plays continue to enthrall and enchant audiences and your imaginative voyage combinse detailed analysis of the plays with a sense of performance, investigating how they’ve been adapted for stage and screen.
This course is open to all-comers: if you already know something about Shakespeare, come and find out more; if you’ve never studied Shakespeare before, then this is class that introduces you to the world’s greatest playwright.
Plays: The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Troilus and Cressida, and The Tempest
The course includes theatre trips to Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London.
Please try and ensure that you read Shakespeare’s plays in annotated editions as they provide useful background information, often give a performance history and have invaluable notes.
Suggested editions: Arden Shakespeare, Oxford Shakespeare or Cambridge Shakespeare. In previous classes, students have also found the Folger Shakespeare Library editions easily accessible, user-friendly and very portable! If you decide to bring Kindle (or other e-versions) with you, please ensure that you have access to annotated editions as well.
You will need to bring the books on the Required Reading List with you to Oxford. The Supplementary Reading List suggests other plays that are immediately relevant to the course (but are not required reading) and film versions that it would be useful for you to have seen. The Further Reading List contains background works and criticism.
All books on the reading list are in print and most of them are in paperback.
The Comedy of Errors
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Merchant of Venice
Troilus and Cressida
Dido, Queen of Carthage
The Jew of Malta
It’s always useful to see plays as well as read them. The BBC Shakespeare (available on DVD) offers some excellent versions of the plays – but avoid The Tempest!
Film adaptations I’m likely to use in class are:
The Comedy of Errors: dir: Trevor Nunn (starring Roger Rees and Judi Dench)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: dir: Michael Hoffman (starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline)
The Merchant of Venice: dir. Michael Radford (starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes)
dir: Trevor Nunn (starring Henry Goodman)
Troilus and Cressida: BBC Shakespearedir. Jonathan Miller
The Tempest: dir: Julie Taymor (starring Helen Mirren)
These are general, introductory texts that give you a sense of Shakespeare’s life and career and the culture he inhabited. If you would like more specific introductory reading then please contact me.
Julia Briggs, This Stage-Play World: Texts and Contexts 1580–1625 (Oxford University Press, 1997)
David Scott Kastan (ed), A Companion to Shakespeare (Blackwell, 1999)
Frank Kermode, The Age of Shakespeare (Phoenix, 2005)
Frank Kermode, Shakespeare’s Language (Penguin, 2001)
James Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (Faber & Faber, 2005)
Stanley Wells and Lena Cowen Orlin, Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide (Oxford University Press, 2003)
You are expected to write one paper of 1,500 to 2,000 words and to deliver one oral presentation.
15% course participation
25% in-class presentation
60% final paper
Lynn Robson, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., is a lecturer at Regent's Park College, University of Oxford, where she teaches 16th- and 17th-century literature. She has taught Shakespeare classes for the Oxford Berkeley Program for the past five years. She is a dedicated theatergoer and tries to keep up with the latest productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal National and Globe Theatres.