Ellen MacKay

10:10a-11:00a MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

TOPIC: “The Histories”

This course will take on Shakespeare’s two tetralogies of history plays, all written at the tail end of the sixteenth century and during the sunset of the Tudor dynasty. By a sustained engagement with the genre of dramatic history, we will explore some rich questions, such as what it means to stage the spectacle of rule (as well as its more closeted operations), how Shakespeare represents the onset of early modernity, how he participates in a revisionist history of the medieval period as a dark age, and what influence his theatre has had upon received understandings of the past. Certainly, we will attend to the ways these plays revise the facts of English history, and to what purpose they do so, but beyond the issue of his fidelity to the monarchical record, we will discuss the way Shakespeare imagines and influences English identity as it is more widely constituted. For instance, we will pay particular attention to his representation of regional and national difference (especially in the complex cases of Ireland, Scotland and Wales), his vision of the laboring classes, and his depiction of women across the social spectrum.

In addition to our close readings of the plays, we will read and critique some representative secondary criticism, and we will undertake extensive readings in history, from present-day critical works to the annals that were Shakespeare’s sources. We may also examine some of the cinematic representations of Henry V and Richard III. Each member of the class will complete at least two in-class presentations, one on a play and another on a critical essay, both of which involve a written component. There will be a multiple-choice exam for the midterm, and the course will culminate in a research essay accompanied by an annotated bibliography.

Plays: Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2 (The Contention), Henry VI Part 3 (The True Tragedy), Richard III, Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V.