ENGL478D - Selected Topics in English and American Literature before 1800: Shakespeare and Italian Renaissance Comedy

This course will explore the relationship between Italian sixteenth-century comedies and those of Shakespeare.  Italian comedy in the sixteenth century developed earlier than did English comedy, and it constitutes a significant, if largely indirect, source for Shakespeare’s comedies (indeed, Italy and Italian literature loom large in Shakespeare).  Italian comedies were based on classical Roman models, but exceeded them in bawdiness and adultery, topical satire, complicated plots, cross-dressing, disguising, trickery, cynicism, and even melodrama.  Shakespeare incorporates those conventions, but changes them, too:  He introduces a new level of verbal play, deepens the exploration of love and identity, and imports elements of medieval chivalric romance.  The course will allow students to read a sampling of Italian comedy, a body of work that they generally have little opportunity to encounter, allowing them to place Shakespeare’s work in a specific European literary context.  Representative Italian plays will be selected from works such as Bibbiena’s La Calandria, Ariosto’s The Pretenders, Machiavelli’s The Mandrake, Aretino’s Cortigiana, the Intronati’s The Deceived, Caro’s The Ragged Brothers, Piccolomi’s Allesandro, and della Porta’s The Two Rival Brothers.  Representative Shakespearean plays might include The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night.  Typical requirements might be:  Class attendance and participation; two essays; quizzes, tests, short commentaries; final exam; perhaps some prepared readings of scenes.  Students also will be required to attend and review a live performance of a Shakespearean play.  

Electronic devices (computers, iPads, iPhones, tablets, smart phones, and the like) will not be allowed in class. Students must bring play-texts to class in the form of paper copies. If you are not comfortable with a paper-only class environment, then you should not enroll in this class.


Two lower-level English courses, at least one in literature; or permission of ARHU-English department.