ENGL 395
Shakespeare's Hands: Literary Labors and the Politics of Embodiment Fall 2023
Division I

Class Details

The body part that might be said to distinguish the human, a “hand” also signifies metonymically–to indicate a person doing manual (from the Latin manus and French main), domestic, or aesthetic labor. Think of a sailor, a weaver, a soldier, but also an artist, musician, writer, or actor. This course will read a handful of Shakespeare’s plays and poems with an attention to the oftentimes marginal figurations of labor and work, asking how such a focus can illuminate the politics of embodiment in the early modern era (as well as in later modern stagings and rewritings). What might allusions to textile production in Othello tell us about the play’s contestation of ethnicity and sexuality? How does the performance of hauling wood in The Tempest afford an inquiry into racial formation and its connection with enclosure, colonization, and enslavement? What’s the relationship between the “mechanical” craftwork and the mercantile imaginary of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? We’ll also spend some time considering the economy of early modern play-making, and the disciplining of the hand in the early modern schoolroom. How does the study of such literary labors change or inflect the way we describe generic forms (tragedy, comedy, lyric) and the way we read otherwise central gestures of Shakespearean plots: clasping, lending, building, mending, praying, stealing, murdering, mothering. Each of Shakespeare’s plays will anchor a set of other readings in Shakespeare’s sources and contemporaries (e.g. Burton, Montaigne, Hayklut, Petrarch, Marlowe, More) and in theories of work, labor, and the body (e.g. Ahmed, Arendt, Bourdieu, Butler, Fanon, Foucault, Marx, Ngai).
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 1976
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Two 8-page papers (one at midterm and one final); maintenance of a reading journal or "commonplace book"; regular discussion posts; a recitation; and a creative response.
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preferences: English Majors
Distributions: Division I

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