This seminar will explore how Renaissance dramatists—with primary emphasis on Shakespeare—broach questions of collective existence in their plays. Placing Shakespeare in dialogue with a number of precursor and contemporary dramatists will help us identify some of the most important formal resources available to playwrights for representing, thinking about, troubling, or otherwise engaging questions of communal being. This approach will provide a platform to engage with a number of recent developments in recent Shakespearean literary criticism, including: critical efforts to understand the theater as a site of collective belonging; a rejuvenated focus on sovereignty and biopolitical existence in the plays; widespread interest in the theater’s relation to the emergence of liberal modes of political life; recent inquiry into plays as sites for identifying or consolidating human-nonhuman assemblages; and a developing emphasis on alternative theories of matter in the period.
The syllabus will emphasize Shakespeare’s history plays and tragedies. Alongside these works we will read representative morality drama, as well as plays by John Bale, Nicholas Udall, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Elizabeth Cary, and Thomas Middleton. The seminar will require active participation, at least one in-class presentation, and a final critical essay.