Shakespeare: The History Plays (LIT2214.01)

Maya Cantu

An explosion of history plays appeared on the scene in Elizabethan England,” as Marjorie Garber describes England’s transition into a “political power, proud of its absolute monarch.” Of these plays, few offered more multifaceted portrayals of pageantry, tyranny, succession, and causality than the history plays of William Shakespeare. The playwright examined the power structures and institutions of his own times, and its problems of divine right, as much as the monarchal myths of the past. In this course, we will read and watch five of Shakespeare’s English history plays: Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; Henry V; and Richard III. We will examine the historical context of each play, study Shakespeare’s use of his source material and strategies of adaptation, and explore a range of contemporary critical responses that consider questions of race, gender, and sexuality. As a sixth play, we will also explore The African Company Presents Richard III, Carlyle Brown’s 1994 metatheatrical drama, in which an 1821 New York production of Shakespeare’s history play, starring the groundbreaking African American actor James Hewlett as the discontented “son of York,” acts as a galvanizing “cultural battleground” for values of American identity, representation, and democracy.


Learning Outcomes:
Students will:

--Analyze Shakespeare’s dramatic structure, themes, language, adaptive sources and strategies, and use of genre conventions.

--Understand the dramaturgy of Shakespeare's history plays within the literary, social, and political contexts of Early Modern England.

--Draw upon contemporary scholarship and criticism to illuminate Shakespeare’s Elizabethan and Jacobean contexts and themes.

--Strengthen research, writing, critical thinking, and oral communication skills through a mix of close readings, discussions, and essay assignments.


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 4
W 4:10PM - 6:00PM & Th 3:40PM - 5:30PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 20
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: All courses , Drama , Literature , Fully In-Person
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