Are you registered for Shakespeare’s America?  Would you like to be in the class?

Read on.


In Shakespeare’s America you will spend three to four hours in preparation for each scheduled hour in class.  You should not attempt Shakespeare’s America if this is out of the question for you.  You will likely have one day off from your studies each week on average.  You’ll need to fit your life around Shakespeare’s America.  It won’t be feasible to squeeze Shakespeare’s America into your life.

Required: You must be competent in expository writing in order to do the work of Shakespeare’s America.  This competence includes command of English grammar, punctuation and mechanics.  Although the hard work of improving one’s writing is wedded for life to serious study in the humanities, this program is not a writing class as such.

Recommended: You should have completed college work in literature written before 1900 and in American history before 1860.  Previous college work in philosophy, especially in Plato, Aristotle or Kant, would also benefit you as a student in this program.

To be a student in Shakespeare’s America is to practice for one intense quarter the craft of close reading of complex texts: Shakespeare’s plays, Melville’s and Hawthorne’s prose fiction and Emerson’s philosophical essays.  This craft will focus our attention on the rich, revealing interplay of form and meaning in a written work.

Close reading, the central activity of this program, entails the habit of thorough note-taking.  For each of the works of literature and scholarship in Shakespeare’s America you’ll need to write extensive notes.  As time goes by, your notes will add up to a sizeable body of writing.  Your notes will be the foundation of all you say and write, and a good deal of your time out of class will be devoted to composing them and to the concomitant rereading of the plays, novels, and other writings at the center of our work together. Shortcuts such as SparkNotes and speed-reading are worse than useless for this work; using up valuable time, such shortcuts are really nothing of the sort and will prepare you for neither the exams nor the seminars.

Exams. There will be an exam in class on assigned reading on Monday of each of the first nine weeks (handwritten, no books, notes or computer) and a final exam in the tenth week.  As you will see, the exams are exercises in close reading.  The first exam will be on  Moby-Dick on the first day of class, Monday, September 26th.

In addition to seminars and exams, you will write a short paper in textual explication.

Weekly class schedule.  Find it at, probably sometime in August.

Credit policy.  You will receive 16 credits if you attend all classes and satisfactorily complete the requirements indicated in the syllabus.  I do not give makeup exams or accept late work.  I do not give Incompletes.  A self-evaluation, due at the end of the tenth week, and an evaluation conference during the eleventh week are required.

Absent from the first class meeting? I will drop you from the lists of registered and wait-listed students, and your space will be taken by a student on the waiting list who is in the room.

If you are enthusiastic about reading Shakespeare, Melville, Emerson and Hawthorne, if you are eager to practice the twin crafts of close reading and evidence-based interpretation, meet the academic criteria indicated above under Required and Recommended, and are in a position to apply yourself to these studies six days a week, then I gladly welcome you to Shakespeare’s America.

But if your decision is uncertain, you do not meet the academic criteria, or are not in a position to study six days a week, then I advise you to pursue a different course of study this fall.


David Marr, Ph. D.

Member of the Faculty Emeritus in the Humanities


Books for Shakespeare’s America

William Shakespeare

The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays/The Sonnets, 2nd ed.

Edited by Stephen Greenblatt et al.  Norton.  ISBN-13: 9780393933130.  NOTE: Before August 17, the ISBN given here for this book was missing one “3″; it is now right.–DM


Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Edited by P. Norberg.  Barnes and Noble Classics.  ISBN: 1-59308-076-x.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Selected Tales and Sketches.  Edited by Michael J. Colacurcio.  Penguin.

ISBN: 978-0-14-039057-5.


Herman Melville

Moby-Dick.  Edited by Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford.  2nd ed.  Norton.

ISBN: 0-393-97283-6.  1st edition is also acceptable.  The Norton editions include Melville’s essay “Hawthorne and his ‘Mosses’,” which will be central to our work.

Benito Cereno, Bartleby the Scrivener, and The Encantadas.  NOTE: You may be redirected by digireads to Barnes and Noble for this book.

ISBN-13: 978142092594.

Lawrence W. Levine

Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Harvard University Press.  ISBN: 0674390776.