English 150

Senior Seminar: Shakespearean and Postmodern Sensibilities

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2005 Altman, Joel B.
Altman, Joel
TTh 9:30-11 103 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Greenblatt, Stephen, ed.: The Norton Shakespeare; Course Reader


While 'Shakespeare' has been an important presence in western culture since the seventeenth century, that presence has never been self-identical. Shakespeare the man began turning himself into 'Shakespeare' in his own lifetime, as he revised his plays to match mind, moment, and circumstance, becoming the theme of honor's tongue, and after his death others took up the task through criticism and performance, in varying modes of deliberate and unconscious activity that accommodated different personal, aesthetic, and ideological urgings. How stand we then, to whom 'Shakespeare' seems so meaningful, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when ways of thinking about ourselves, our world, and what it is to be human are so different from the ways in which 'Shakespeare, 1564-1616' must have thought? Or are they? (I use quotation marks to remind us that even the most scrupulous historical account of Shakespeare the man and his work is an interpretive product.) This seminar will explore the sturdy, the attenuated, and the broken connections between Shakespearean and Postmodern Sensibilities by attempting to define what we might mean by 'Shakespearean' and by 'Postmodern,' and by studying Renaissance playwriting and staging and a small number of exemplary Shakespeare plays in relation to some of the largely deconstructive theories and habits of thought that have come to dwell, sometimes unremarked, among the traditional humanist assumptions of consciousness, agency, moral goodness, responsibility, and justice by which we largely live. If you enroll, you should (1) have a wide knowledge of the Shakespeare canon, so you can bring it to bear on our selected plays, (2) be willing to scrutinize seriously the ideologies to which we often give lip-service--including the anti-ideological ideologies in which we often revel, and (3) savor the challenges of mind-bending concepts and language. Regular attendance will be required, one or two oral presentations, and two papers, one short, one long.

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