shakespeare i

The plays of the first half of Shakespeare’s career, from the antic experiments of the early comedies to the fathomless mystery of Hamlet. We will consider the playwright’s interest in the power of imagination, the art of rhetoric, storytelling (fictional and historical), literary genre (comedy, tragedy, chronicle), time, and love. Above all we will attend to his language, which has carried to us—in reverent recitations, revisionary productions, parody, pastiche, and countless literary echoes—across four hundred years, and will be ours to carry forward.

Schedule of readings and assignments

Sept. 15 Introduction (Hamlet)

Sept. 20 and 22 The Comedy of Errors

Sept. 27 and 29 A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Oct. 4 and 6 Romeo and Juliet

Oct. 11 and 13 King Richard the Second

Oct. 18 and 20 The Merchant of Venice

Oct. 25 and 27 Henry the Fourth (Part I)


Nov. 8 and 10 Much Ado about Nothing

Nov. 15 and 17 Julius Caesar

Nov. 22 Sonnets

Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 As You Like It

Dec. 6 and 8 Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Dec. 13 and 15 Hamlet

Jan. 17 Dean’s date: final paper due

Reading assignments: we will read one play a week; you should come to Tuesday’s lecture having read that week’s play through at least once and made some notes for yourself about it. Reading Shakespeare is an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Occasional supplementary readings will also be assigned.

Written assignments: the course requires six two-page (700 word) exercises and a final, five-page (1750 word) paper developed out of one of those exercises, due on Dean’s Date (January 17). There will be a different exercise assigned for each week (except the week of midterms); you choose six, according to your interest and your schedule. Even in weeks when you opt out, you should give the exercise some thought, since it will bear on the week’s lectures. If you do more than six of the exercises—you can submit up to eight—your lowest grade(s) will be dropped in the final calculation (which will be an average of your six highest grades).

Some weeks, your preceptor may ask you to rewrite a paragraph from your exercise for style, identifying one writing issue (e.g. variety of sentence lengths and structures, use of prepositional phrases) to work on. You should submit the revised paragraph the week following; your grade for the exercise will not be final until you do. Shakespeare, the great poet, is also a great prose stylist, and we too must strive to write clearly, beautifully, persuasively etc.!

Blackboard postings: each week you are expected to post a two-hundred word comment on the reading to Blackboard, as a preliminary to discussion in precept. The specific timing and content of posts, which are less formal than the exercises or paper, will be determined by your preceptor. You make take off one week of your choice without penalty.

Exam: there will be a two-hour final exam, emphasizing identifications and commentary on short passages and key terms. At least two passages on the final exam will be passages (of at least five lines) that you have memorized in advance. See the Blackboard site for more details.

Books: Our texts for the course are the Oxford Shakespeare editions of the plays listed above: they are well-annotated; replete with useful prefatory material, and appendices for the curious; portable (compared to the big one-volume collections); and relatively inexpensive. They are on sale at Labyrinth, and they are the texts you want on your bookshelf not only for the semester but for years to come. There is substantial variation among editions of the plays, for reasons we will discuss, so please purchase these particular volumes. If you have strong reasons for considering another edition, consult your preceptor. Above all it must be a printed book!—by leaps and bounds the best technology for encountering the text of the plays; and e-readers and tablets are permitted neither in lecture nor in precept.

Blackboard site: the course’s Blackboard site hosts all materials related to the course, from the syllabus to the weekly assignments to descriptions of the exam. There are also links to resources for the further study of Shakespeare, from biography to electronic texts of the plays and poems to accounts of the Elizabethan theater.

Class policies: no laptop or tablet computers are permitted in lecture or precept; phones must be turned off. (If you have special grounds for using a keyboard for note-taking, please email Professor Dolven.) Attendance at all lectures and precepts is mandatory. Attendance will be taken in precepts, and the instructors reserve the right to take attendance in lectures.


8% each exercise (for a total of 48%)
12% class participation
20% final exam
20% final paper