Shakespeare's Political Thought: Sovereignty and History
Shakespeare is, among many other things, an exceptionally keen analyst of the political institutions of his time. Going beyond simply displaying instances of good and bad kingship, for instance, he thinks deeply about the foundations of monarchy as a political form: the nature of hereditary right, the relation between the ruler and the law, the tension between symbolic authority and practical power. He is also an acute observer of the way in which the high politics of sovereignty depends upon the activities of women, children, servants, and others who find themselves at once empowered and endangered by their proximity to the throne. This course considers from three distinct angles what it might mean to read Shakespeare as a theorist of politics. We’ll discuss his insights into political systems with an eye to how these illuminate perennial and enduring questions about responsible government and legitimate authority. But we’ll also examine how the historical conditions of Shakespeare’s theater—including official censorship and dependence on royal patronage—complicate any attempt to find usable meanings in the plays. Finally, we’ll look at some ways critics have sought to reconcile these two perspectives, reflecting on the uses as well as the limitations of historical evidence as a guide to interpretation. Shakespeare’s cycles of plays on English political history will be at the center of our inquiry, but we’ll also read in a variety of genres, possibly including Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and The Winter¿s Tale, along with classical and Renaissance thinkers such as Tacitus, Seneca, Erasmus, Machiavelli, and Montaigne.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: 2 shorter essays (5-6 pp); 1 longer paper involving independent research; class participation
Enrollment Preference: none
Distributions: Division I;
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- ENGL 355 - 01 (F) SEM Shakespeare Political Thought