English 203

Graduate Readings: Shakespeare and the Law of Genre

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2021 Arnold, Oliver
W 12-3 300 Wheeler


As we read five comedies, five tragedies, and The Tempest, we will consider Shakespeare’s serial offenses against the rules of art—in particular, his radical upending of conventional generic decorum—in relation to both the regime of genre (Aristotle, Horace, Sidney) and the critique of genre (Derrida, Jameson, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy, Berlant).  We will think about particulars—for example, why does Shakespeare include sovereigns in his comedies?–and ask whether Shakespeare's particular departures from traditions and rules pressure the category of genre itself.

We will not obsess about genre.  We will also give sustained attention to Shakespeare's representation of animals, indistinction, conversion, citizenship, compassion, artificial persons, poverty, the Roman Republic, false consciousness, and freedom and unfreedom; and I expect that other participants will bring many other interests and concerns to the table.  Secondary readings will include a healthy dose of writings about genre, but we will also take advantage of Shakespeare's unique importance to the evolution of literary criticism and to the philosophy of art. If Shakespeare studies have in recent decades been most closely associated with the new historicism, the plays and sonnets have been a touchstone for almost every kind of literary criticism (Marxist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, postcolonial, feminist, and on and on).

We will read The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well (the nastiest play in the canon!); Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus; and The Tempest.  I will order the Norton Shakespeare, but any good complete Shakespeare or good individual editions of the plays will serve you well.

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