English | Shakespeare
L725 | 24483 | Mackay

1:00p -4:00p R


The mission of this course is to investigate the pleasures and
perils of placing Shakespeare in conversation with evidences,
objects, theories, ghosts and works across a range of periods and
locales. The starting point of this inquiry will be an inquest into
the death of historicism (though it is perhaps the case that this
passing has been announced too hastily). We will ponder the
accusation that Shakespeare has suffered too long as the curiosity
cabinet of early modernity, his plays reduced to exhibits of unsung
histories of questionable relevance to the text. To be fair and
balanced, we will also consider the implications of the “willful
violation” of historical difference that Richard Halpern espouses in
Shakespeare among the Moderns. Finally, we will pay especial
attention to those critics who attempt to skirt this great divide.

Our seminar is intended to be an opportunity to place methodology at
the forefront of our conversations; I invite each of us to reach
individual decisions about which kinds of contexts seem especially
fruitful, sound, and provocative of our own research. With this
ambition in mind, the course will be structured as a series of
pairings that position a given play against a different critical
backdrop, thus involving us in a different critical practice. Some
of the conjunctions I anticipate undertaking include Shakespeare and
Bad Historiography (Henry VIII), Shakespeare and the Birth of the
Gothic (Hamlet), and Shakespeare and Crypto-Catholicism (Othello).
Each approach will involve readings both critical and primary; for
instance, we will read Henry VIII alongside selections from Austen’s
Mansfield Park, Patricia Rozema’s film of the novel, and the
introduction of Martin Harries’ Scare Quotes from Shakespeare. By
way of contrast, our chosen context for Othello will include some of
Crashaw’s poetry, an episode from Purchas’ Pilgrimages, a chapter
from Richard Wilson’s Secret Shakespeare: Studies in Theatre,
Religion and Resistance, and a selection from Derrida’s Specters of

This course will require several reading responses, at least one
significant in-class presentation, and a research paper of 20 pages
or so that tries out a new (or re-envisioned) context for a chosen

I would welcome any questions or suggestions about the course’s
content or methods; please feel free to contact me at