If Shakespeare could travel through time to the 21st century, he would probably be bewildered to discover that his works were being read and studied as academic texts in university classrooms. Despite our advances in technology, he might be much more at home with his plays’ still-vibrant lives on stages and screens around the world, as well as online, where Lady Macbeth keeps a Facebook page and Hamlet answers questions from his admirers on Tumblr. In Shakespeare’s England, playwriting was neither scholarly nor static. It was a dynamic, collaborative, open-access world in which writers borrowed freely from old material and shaped it into new entertainment—a concept of creativity that connects Shakespeare to many of his interpreters and fans today.
In this course, we will be reading several of Shakespeare’s works—including The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Hamlet, and The Tempest—without staying tethered to words on a printed page. Because these plays were meant to be performed and enjoyed by a large, diverse audience, we will respond to cinematic productions (most from the past fifteen years) that restore their characters and themes to popular culture around the world. Because Shakespeare drew them from older sources and expected them to be renewed and reinterpreted in turn by younger writers, we will explore their digital transformations through social media, fan fiction, web comics, and other forms of fandom to examine their application to a new generation. And because their range of temporal and geographic settings were often tuned to resonate with Shakespeare’s own age and nation, we will study a range of global adaptations—from Indian films to Korean video games—to see how they contend with living issues of politics, gender, race, and nationhood.