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ENGL 2800 Shakespeare and Popular Culture

People in Shakespearean poses

Catalog Description: Shakespeare’s plays and their afterlives as expressed in theater, film, literature, music, dance, the visual and material arts. Individual and collaborative critical analysis, scene work, and creative adaptations. GE C1

Course Description: This course presents Shakespeare’s plays as works of popular culture that have been and continue to be reinvented in a range of artistic forms for a multitude of ideological purposes across the globe. Students will benefit intellectually from the course’s emphasis on critical contextualization. They will also gain an interdisciplinary awareness of and appreciation for the arts. Finally, students will learn by doing, honing their own interests and talents as they, like so many others have done, “talk back to Shakespeare” in their own voices. Students will learn to analyze adaptations critically through guided practice in class, write analyses of particular performance choices in filmed and local stage productions, and, at the end of the quarter, work in collaborative cohorts to produce their own Shakespearean adaptations, applying the interdisciplinary knowledge of the arts and the critical skills they have attained.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • apply interdisciplinary skills when analyzing the significance of artistic performance choices in stage and film productions of Shakespeare’s plays
  • demonstrate awareness of the range of artistic adaptations of the plays in multiple media
  • formulate interpretive claims about the cultural work performed by the plays and specific adaptations in different time periods and locations
  • create compelling and informed Shakespearean adaptations using a variety of artistic forms and interdisciplinary skills (theater, film, music, dance, art, and creative writing)

Course Outline

Course content might be organized in a number of ways. Listed below is one possible organization of course materials.

Week 1: Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Life

Representations of “the Bard” in multiple media: Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love, children’s picturebooks and historical fiction and adult biographies (Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography, Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s Wife), Martin Droeshout’s 1623 First Folio title page engraving, the Chandos portrait, and images in contemporary popular culture.

Weeks 2-11: Analysis of 3 representative plays and selected adaptations, 1600 to the present

Plays that might be examined include The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, I Henry IV, Much Ado about Nothing, Henry V, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Othello, and The Tempest.

Shakespeare’s plays are themselves adaptations of classical, medieval, and early modern sources. Each play will be contextualized in its originary moment and then examined in relation to its artistic afterlives in theater, dance, music, the visual and material arts, print culture, and film.  The focus throughout will be on elements of Shakespearean stagecraft (script, structure, casting, blocking, props, set and costume design, song and dance) and theater/film history. Additionally, students will discuss the artistic techniques and sociopolitical implications of visual renditions of the plays in illustrated editions, the engravings in Boydell’s 19th-century Shakespeare Gallery, oil paintings, and promotional materials. Students will consider the varied effects of the music and dance written into the plays, as well as the early modern post-play jigs, 19th-century operas and ballets, 20th-century musicals, and contemporary film soundtracks. Shakespeare’s plays have inspired multiple literary responses in the form of poetry, fiction, and other plays, which will serve as models for the students’ own adaptations. Global adaptations from Asia, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe will extend the students’ awareness beyond the Anglo-American tradition and challenge them to consider the ideological implications of modern and postcolonial appropriations.

On a given day, for example, students might be analyzing a scene from The Taming of the Shrew, placing it in conversation with multiple sources and adaptations: the English ballad “A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife Lapped in Morel’s Skin for Her Good Behavior,”  David Garrick’s 18th-century Catharine and Petruchio, Charles and Mary Lamb’s 1807 rendition for children, the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate (1948), and Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate about You (1999). Issues of social constructions of gender, race, class, family structures, and educational practices would inevitably be raised in such a discussion, helping students to historicize their artistic awareness.

Weeks 12-15: Creation and Presentation of Students’ Shakespearean Adaptations

Students will apply their newly gained knowledge and skills to the creation of several group adaptations, which might take such forms as a theatrical performance, an exhibit of original artwork or a curated exhibit of artwork executed by others, a poetry reading, a “pitch” for a scene written as a screenplay, a dance or musical performance. The instructor will provide ongoing consultation for each group, and all class members will function as critics, providing their colleagues with evaluative notes in response to the final presentations. Each group will provide a written rationale for its performance, explaining how and why they chose to respond to a specific Shakespearean play.

About the Banner: From "How Historical Figures Might Look Today" created for "The Secret Life of . . ." series on Yesterday and reproduced in the Telegraph (top left:; "Alas, poor Boba Fett" from Transmedial Shakespeare (top right:; David Tennant as Hamlet (bottom right: