Last Updated: 11/11/2009
Faculty: David Marr American studies
Major areas of study include English and American literature and history.
Class Standing: Juniors or seniors; transfer students welcome.
Prerequisites: Good work in literature, history or philosophy from any period before 1850.
To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood
do come to Dunsinane . . .
Parodies of William Shakespeare's plays were forms of popular entertainment in nineteenth century America. Shakespeare's American audiences, uneducated as well as educated, knew much Shakespeare by heart. They admired the original, roared at the parody, and held performers of both to a high standard.
Shakespeare's America takes The Bard's wide (at times wild) popularity in nineteenth century America as one of its three points of departure. The second and third are the meditations on Shakespeare by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville, two of the leading American writers of the age. To Emerson, Shakespeare was "inconceivably wise," whereas all other great authors were only "conceivably" wise. To Melville, twenty-five years old when he returned from the sea to take up writing as a vocation, Shakespeare became a lifelong source of inspiration, and a grand figure to be superseded by ambitious authors like himself and his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne trying to make a name for themselves in the new republic of the United States. It was a blessing to write after Shakespeare, and also a burden.
Among the plays of Shakespeare's we will read are Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. We will also read several essays by Emerson, Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In seminar discussions and our own writings about these literary works, we will give a good account of ourselves, heeding Henry James' advice to young writers: "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!"
Credits: 16 per quarter
Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in any field requiring competence in the uses of language, conceptual analysis and interpretation, such as literature, philosophy, history, law and public service.
Planning Units: Culture, Text and Language