Readings in Shakespeare

L625 — Spring 2022

Linda Charnes
Days and Times
1:15 - 2:30p TR (4 CR)
Course Description

Topic: Shakespeare and Political Spectacle

This course will explore how Shakespeare’s plays dissect the uses of spectacle during eras when existing political systems are under severe stress or trauma. Shakespeare’s culture operated less than one hundred years after the notorious War of the Roses. But the plays also preceded the English Civil War by less than forty years. How did England go from the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings (massively reinforced under Tudor and Jacobean Stuart rule) to the legal trial and execution of Charles I in 1649? How can a culture’s relationship to belief and law change so quickly? We’ll examine Shakespeare’s political and history plays, including the two tetralogies and the Roman plays, to see how the staging of historical events, filtered through Shakespeare’s creative lens, served as real-time critique during an era when direct opposition to sovereignty was life-risking. We’ll use political psychologists such as Agamben, Elster, Agnew as well as Latour’s work on Actor-Network-Theory, affect theory (starting with Raymond Williams’ “structures of feeling”) and Austin’s speech-act theory to help us analyze how direct critique may seem “silent” while being modeled and enacted on the stage. The public playhouse and other early modern theaters really were the abstract chroniclers of their time—a time of surveillance, censorship, and domination by the wealthy and powerful. Any analogies with contemporary circumstances will be purely intentional.

Plays: Richard II, I Henry IV, Henry V, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, King Lear, The Tempest.

Students will write two ten-twelve paged papers. Attendance and participation will be crucial.