If Shakespeare could travel through time to the twenty-first century, he would be bewildered to discover that his works were being read and studied as academic texts in university classrooms. In this course, we will read several of Shakespeare’s works—including The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and The Tempest—without staying tethered to words on a printed page.
In Shakespeare’s London, playwriting was neither scholarly nor static. His was a dynamic, collaborative, open-access world in which writers borrowed freely from old material and re-shaped it into new forms of entertainment—a concept of creativity that connects Shakespeare to many of his interpreters and fans today. The public theater was one of the most successful forums for popular culture in Renaissance England, and Shakespeare wrote his plays for large and diverse audiences. During Shakespeare’s time, it would not have been unusual for the queen or king of England to be in attendance, watching the performance alongside the groundlings—the often rowdy theatergoers from London’s working classes.
In this seminar, we will respond to cinematic productions that restore Shakespeare’s characters and themes to popular culture—both in his own time and around the world. In this course, we’ll read and analyze Shakespeare’s original playtexts alongside global cinematic productions of his plays, including a Bollywood-inspired retelling of Othello and a feudal Japanese reimagining of King Lear. In doing so, we’ll see how these films respond to living issues of politics, gender, race, and nationhood.
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