An examination of representative early Shakespearean plays, including tragedies, comedies, and histories. Plays vary from year to year.
ENGL 321: Early Shakespeare
“Shakespeare’s Green Worlds from the Little Ice Age to the Anthropocene”
Instructor: Joseph Campana
English Department Areas of Specialization:
Literature & Literary History
Science, Medicine & the Environment
Northrop Frye argued that Shakespeare’s works were rooted in “the drama of the green world.” Plays began, he argued, in the real world but departed for an alternative space—a place of fantasy far from harsh social and natural realities. So much has changed since Frye’s 1957 Anatomy of Criticism helped define what literary criticism was. Many now would hear the phrase “green world” differently. Similarly, we might hear differently Hamlet’s famous call for art to imitate reality, to “hold, as ‘twere, a mirror up to nature.” The theater of the green world now concerns itself with environs and ecologies, creatures and climate, natures and norms. This course surveys the works of Shakespeare keeping in mind that series of concerns, which were as immediate to those living in the “Little Ice Age” of the 14th-17th centuries as they might be to those who live in an era of increasing climate uncertainty. The course will consider more traditional literary questions alongside more recent turns to ecology and environmental history. The course considers a variety of environs—the forest, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merry Wives of Windsor, and the narrative poem Venus and Adonis; the pastoral countryside in As You Like It and Winter’s Tale; the devastated heath of King Lear; and oceanic “other” worlds, both utopian and proto-colonial, in The Tempest. We’ll examine the workings of nature, desire, and climate in all of these works as well as in a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And we’ll try to answer key questions with recourse to Shakespeare and his era as well as our own. Does “one touch of nature make the whole world kin?” What happens when we put Shakespeare in conversation with natural history and the history of science? What happens when you hold “a mirror up to nature?” Who or what is nature? Are we part of it or obliged to it? What role does desire play in the green world? Is there any escape from the worlds and civilizations we build? Course assignments include: a portfolio of short response essays, a final essay, attending a live performance, and a group project/presentation.
This course offers D1 credit and satisfies the English major pre-1800 requirement.