Spring 2013
- Seminar in Language and Literature: Shakespeare and the Idea of Comedy

Comedy gets no respect.  Even the great comedies of Shakespeare, which transformed the genre, draw less critical attention than do his tragedies and histories.  Oddly, comedy is central to human experience and is also probably the most historically continuous genre in literature and drama, but we seem unable to talk about it in the way that we can about tragedy.  Could one of comedy’s attractions be its resistance to theory?  In “Shakespeare and the Idea of Comedy,” we are going to take up these problems.  Our basic questions are, what do we mean by ‘comedy’ as a genre and as applied to Shakespeare, how do we distinguish comedy from tragedy and other forms, and what makes Shakespearean comedy interesting, complex, irresistible, important, good?  We will read about eight of Shakespeare’s comedies, and we will test them against theories of comedy from the Classical age, the Renaissance, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Classical and Renaissance theories tend to be abstract and reductive; modern theories are perhaps more suggestive, but they can still seem ill-fitting or insufficient.  Consequently, we will also investigate what theories of comedy might be inferred directly from Shakespeare’s works themselves.  In these ways, we will address the persistent critical difficulty of finding an adequate theory of comedy. The class readings will likely include all or almost all of the following:  Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labor’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Measure for Measure.  We will also read a book on comedy and selections from various theorists.  Students will turn in a number of short assignments, make one or more class presentations, and write a short paper and a research paper.  Since this is a course on comedy, we will also try to have fun.


Junior standing. For ENGL majors only.


Repeatable to 9 credits if content differs. Course intended primarily for students in English Honors Program. English majors with strong academic records may also apply. Permission from the Director of Honors required.