shakespeare i: weekly exercises

some notes on exercises

There are three reasons for assigning weekly exercises, rather than one or two longer papers: 1) regular feedback: you will have several opportunities to confer with your preceptor about your written work; 2) focus: we will emphasize different aspects of Shakespeare’s complex plays, and skills particular to analyzing them; 3) latitude for experiment: you can try out, over the course of the semester, several different kinds of writing and arguing.

While they are meant to be experimental (increasingly so as they go along), they are still formal assignments, in the sense that the prose should be to the high standard of any submitted paper, and they should have and argue for a thesis. What counts as a thesis will vary from exercise to exercise, as the descriptions will indicate, but we are all always interpreters in this class, trying together to understand and to explain to one another what the plays mean. What they mean will not be obvious. Shakespeare believed that many of the most important motives, forces, even events in human life are difficult to recognize, difficult to understand—whether they are hidden by psychological defenses, ideological complicities, or historical or cultural differences. Each of these exercises has some share in the work of bringing what is hidden into the open space of critical conversation.

Throughout the circuit of exercises—and with the final paper, too—there will be an emphasis on detail, on particular words and lines, and on the art of close reading that responds to them. Stay close to the text and quote what you need as you go.