Monday, November 02, 2009

Choosing Shakespeare

I'm teaching our Shakepeare survey this coming term, and I'm supposed to have selected texts already. That would be easy were I using a big old anthology, but I've switched over to individual editions a while back for a variety of reasons.

I'm pretty sure of two texts already: R&J (because the theater dept is putting it on) and All's Well (because I've never taught it before, and I have a goal to teach all of the plays before I retire).

So, which texts should I teach? (I sometimes teach a grouping of sonnets, and sometimes Lucrece, so don't limit yourselves to plays.)

I usually figure on about 8 texts over the term. I like to teach texts that have some crossover in terms of themes or issues. So, for example, I like to teach Othello and The Winter's Tale to speak to issues of marital jealousy and familial violence.

Go wild! Tell me your fantasy Shakespeare survey, and why!

*** Edited to Add ***

I usually try to balance two histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances. Or I sub in Lucrece for a tragedy.

I really like the generational theme. I'm wondering if A&C would make a nice counter to R&J (grown up vs teen love/tragedy); I love to teach MfM, but would like to get in a nice, easy, and relaxing comedy, so I'm thinking AYLI. For histories, I typically pair 1H4 and H5, but with a generational theme, I think R2 and 1H4 would be a good pairing.

Here's the layout then, roughly (because R&J has to fit when it's playing on campus):

Some sonnets
All's Well

We have generational issues and "coming of age" themes through a number of the plays. We can look at AYLI, All's Well, R&J, 1H4, and WT in terms of finding oneself, identity, disguise, playing.

A&C, Cymbeline, and WT are linked through jealousies as well.

Cymbeline works as a nice way to rethink English history (it's lovely to pair with KJ, though).

Are there specific editions of any of these that stand out as superb and not too expensive? (I really like Orgel's WT, for example, but I haven't looked at the Arden 3s for most of these.)


  1. Hmm, sounds like you might have kind of an older / younger generation theme going. I bet those would group well with King Lear and any of the late romances, and maybe I Henry IV (or both of the Henry IVs, for that matter).

  2. I haven't a clue how I'd structure a Shakespeare survey, but it would be kind of fun to do a political grouping -- Macbeth and Coriolanus, for instance? When I teach an early modern England survey (which I haven't for years) I always teach a Shakespeare play. The histories are low hanging fruit for a historian, and I think Coriolanus is really interesting. Even more fun to try the comedies, like Merry Wives...

    But this doesn't help you!

  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    I adore both Henry IVs and Henry V, so I would include them. not a very sophisticated reason but it's true. :)

  4. Anonymous11:05 AM

    Ditto FP and Susan: King Lear and the Henrys!

  5. I am amateur Shakespeare fan, but one of my favourites is Measure for Measure. I think all those themes around sexual fidelity, moral conflict, justice vs. mercy etc. would resonate well with a modern audiences.

  6. I just taught Measure for Measure, and my students loved it. Of course, both it and All's Well have bed tricks in them, so there's your crossover device.

    I also recommend the Henry IV cycle. Students end up liking them and are usually surprised to find themselves liking them. If you're pressed for time and only want to do one history, maybe Richard III would work. Even as the end of the first tetrology, it stands alone pretty well. I, however, like Henry V better.

    My fantasy Shakespeare class would actually be a special topics class on the history plays. We'd squeeze in all of them if possible by reading eight (the two tetralogies probably), doing out-of-class readings of two (where we all get together and read them aloud in one sitting), and then viewing one movie version. (I'm including Edward III in my list here, so 11 plays all together.) It would be a lot of work, but my gosh, what fun! I just love the history plays!

    It might be interesting somehow to juxtapose the intense love relationship in R&J to the failed relationship in Troilus and Cressida. Not sure how that would work out. It's been a while since I read T&C, so I am unsure how undergrads would react. Of course, it's one that they would rarely encounter in another class, so there's an appeal there. I have always taught Hamlet, which I love, but students have always already had Hamlet in another class. So putting in plays that they wouldn't get anywhere else is something I like to do in order to counter the familiarity of Hamlet.

    No matter what you choose, I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun!

  7. Does no one like Titus Andronicus? Am I the black sheep here?

    Sure, sure, it's his "first and worst" tragedy, but c'mon!

    And no, I have no idea what sort of context I'd put this play in as far as class goes.

  8. J. Harker - I like Titus, and I've taught it twice. Students mainly like it. However, last time I taught it, I had a student who reacted very weirdly to it, and it became apparent through her discomfort that she had probably been raped at some point. Since Lavinia's rape and the aftermath are so intense in that play, I decided I needed a break from it after having to see that girl's face in a contorted display of shame for two weeks.

    But for those of us who are not rape victims -- yeah, it's a heck of a play. I'd rather teach it over Macbeth any day.

  9. Make sure there's in the comedies with something a little fantastic - one of the ones with fairies and stuff. Just as a sampling. The Tempest or something.

    Does anyone else like Merry Wives of Windsor? It sort of is a comic foil of a lot of the same themes of jealousy that are coming up in the other lists.

    Also I'd say make sure you get one with a character with a good existential angst monologue - Lear or I guess Othello has some good lines in there.

  10. Oh yeah - and do keep in mind what they probably read before...skip Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth just for variety's sake.