English R1A

Reading and Composition: Love and Its Discontents in Shakespeare’s England

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2020 Rice, Sarah Sands
MWF 2-3 279 Dwinelle

Book List

Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Shakespeare, William: Romeo and Juliet; Shakespeare, William: Twelfth Night

Other Readings and Media

All other readings will be available on bCourses.


Why are star-crossed lovers so romantic? How innocent is a love potion that makes a fairy queen fall madly in lust with a man who is part donkey? Just how heteronormative is a play in which the crossdressed heroine remains in masculine garb even when she gets her man? The answers await you in the works of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Renaissance portrayals of love—particularly those by Shakespeare— remain central to Western culture, but much of the complexity, darkness, and wonderful strangeness of those portrayals has faded to the background. In this course, we will delve into that complexity by reading, analyzing, and writing about Renaissance texts that focus on love and its discontents.

We will approach that topic through three guiding themes or units. In our first unit, “The Petrarchan Art of Love,” we will examine Shakespeare’s sonnets and Romeo and Juliet in relation to the Renaissance literary tradition of idealized love, particularly the poetry of Francis Petrarch. We will investigate how Romeo and Juliet builds on the sonnet tradition and how Shakespeare challenges that tradition in his sonnets to a beautiful young man and a sexually alluring Dark Lady. In the second unit, “Love and/or Lust,” we will work to untangle the fraught and sometimes dangerous relationship between love and lust in Renaissance England by venturing into the poetry of John Donne and the nighttime forests of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In our final unit, “Love and Gender,” we will investigate the role of gender flexibility, normativity, transgression, delight, and (dis)empowerment in the relationship between gender and romance in Twelfth Night and the sonnets of Lady Mary Wroth.

In addition to cultivating your critical thinking and literary analysis skills, this course will help to strengthen your academic writing. Becoming a better writer requires practice; as such, you will be required to write several essays of increasing length as the semester progresses.

Required texts (please get these specific editions):  WIlliam Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. Edited by René Weis. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series. ISBN: 978-1903436912; William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. Edited by Kier Elam. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series. ISBN: 978-1903436998; William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Edited by Sukanta Chaudhury. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series. ISBN: 978-1408133491

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