ENGL289I - Acting Human: Shakespeare and the Drama of Identity

Despite what the Administrators of the I-Courses say in the blurb they wrote about this class, it is not a feel-good guaranteed quick access key to your identity: “read Shakespeare, get an identity; read more of him, get two”! Rather this course will be an extended exploration of the difficulty, pain, failures, and occasional successes in finding, creating, and maintaining a dramatic human identity adequate for living in this world. We are born animals; poetry (which is what most education and literature are really about) lets us make ourselves human. But as with sausage, the process often ain’t pretty. We will read six plays by Shakespeare, carefully. We will above all try to learn to become big enough to explore the worlds he give us access to rather than try to shrink those worlds into tidy messages and truisms. As we learn to read his plays, we will watch his characters (did you know “character” originally, and for Shakespeare, meant hand-writing—only?) struggle to figure out how to live in a world this is always more corrupt, disappointing, or just more complicated than we would like. Short papers and you will learn by heart (listen to that phrase) a speech that shows one of the characters at a decisive moment of struggle or celebration. Plays: Henry IV (part one), As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale.