Sunday, April 20, 2014

Symposium: Shakespeare and Gender

Hello, all. The time has come! Wednesday is your Symposium, a 45-50 minute conversation/debate run by you. I will be listening, taking notes, and occasionally intervening to prompt the group on to the next agenda item (below). I will also give a response at the end. But I won't be contributing to the discussion itself. At this point, you don't need me!

Remember, this is an important event. If you've been participating in conversation throughout the semester, great: the Symposium is a chance to finish strong. If you have not been participating, this is an opportunity to do at least some damage-control. One thing is certain: no one should let the Symposium go by without contributing. Everyone should strive to speak at some point or other.

The topic you guys chose in our last class is "Shakespeare and Gender." Below is a loose agenda to help you prepare for the Symposium and to assist in guiding you through the discussion. Remember to have this agenda handy at the Symposium itself, either on a smartphone or computer, or printed out.

(1) You might want to start by generating a list of plays and sonnets that you feel offer important case studies in Shakespeare's treatment of gender.

(2) With this raw material in place, consider this: does Shakespeare seem to have a single, overarching approach to, or view of, gender? Or does he treat the subject in different ways at different times without a single conceptual anchor? (Make reference to specific plays and sonnets, of course.)

(3) Open up the conversation even more now. Having discussed what Shakespeare thinks about gender, consider how Shakespeare thinks with gender. That is to say, how does the theme of gender allow Shakespeare to raise questions about other things, such as political hierarchy, law, and ethics; philosophical questions about agency and selfhood; or theater itself?

(4) Finally, and taking into consideration your wide-ranging discussion up to this point, how is Shakespeare's treatment of gender relevant to our own time? How can we describe this relationship between the art of the past and the social and political landscape of the present without being anachronistic and without being insensitive to both the connections and the differences between art and politics?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Class Cancelled, Wednesday 3/26

Just a reminder that we won't be having class this Wednesday evening (March 26). I'll be in New York boring everyone about Richard II. See you the following week (April 2) for Anthony and Cleopatra!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Final Project (Due: Friday, April 25, before midnight)

Final Project, Option 1: Research Paper

The Research Paper should be 5-6 pages long and should give a historically or culturally contextualized reading of one or two of the plays we deal with this semester. The Sonnets are fair game, as well

Here are the three general guidelines you need to follow if you want to do "well" (i.e. B or better).

I. ARGUMENT: Your first paragraph must present a clear and focused argument and give me a complete and accurate sense of what the next 5 pages will undertake. You must say what you will do, and then, of course, you must actually do it. Remember that no matter what your argument is, the body of the essay will be devoted in some way, shape, or form to providing evidence from the plays/sonnets to support that claim. This means you must develop an argument that is possible to support. Go for something manageable and specific. Don't make sweeping, hyperbolic claims about showing "the true meaning" of the text(s) you're dealing with. And don't make an argument that's flimsy and general: i.e. "So-and-so draws on the historical context of such-and-such to create a poem that's truly emotionally intense" OR "By attending to the historical situation at the time such-and-such was written we can discover Shakespeare's true intentions [etc etc]." This won't fly. Be specific, be focused, be rigorous.

II. RESEARCH AND DOCMENTATION: In order to bring historical or cultural context into your analysis, you'll have to do some research. That is, you'll have to educate yourself on early modern culture, the literary and theater scene, and/or major historical events. For this, two things are crucial:

(1) No more Wikipedia. No Encyclopedia Britannica. There's a time and place for that stuff--this isn't it. You now need to go the library, look up books, and pull them off the shelf; or, search up articles on the MLA Bibliography or Project Muse and pull them off the shelf or download them. If you don't know how to do this, it's your responsibility to get someone from the library staff to teach you. Don't be shy. That's what they're there for.

(2) You must properly document your essay. What I mean by this is, when you give dates, outline a political situation, quote a historical study, etc., etc., you need to insert a note with a reference to the source of that information. There are two acceptable formats to follow: MLA style and Chicago style. You can access handbooks to both styles at the library or online through the "Electronic Resources" section of the library website. Take a moment to look into this; figure how to do a footnote or endnote; figure out what info needs to be listed and in what order. If you don't have proper documentation, you lose points; if you do have proper documentation but the sources you're citing are not scholarly books and articles, but non-peer-reviewed websites and encyclopedias, you lose points. This is crucial, so take it seriously. An hour or so familiarizing yourself with MLA or Chicago documentation style and one or two trips to the library and you'll be fine. I should see at least two secondary sources on your Works Cited page--these can be history books or literary-critical studies--and I should see clearly in the essay how you're using those sources (i.e. for historical/cultural context, as something to argue against, etc.)

III. WRITING: Your writing must be free from errors in spelling and grammar and punctuation. If you're concerned about this, run a draft by someone at the Writing Center on the ground floor of the Auditorium Building.

(1) Write an essay about Shakespeare's treatment of gender in relation to Queen's Elizabeth's reign or some other aspect early modern history or culture. You may focus on either one or two texts

(2) Choose one or two plays and write an essay that shows how they are products of an increasingly global culture. You may focus on early modern exploration, colonialism, or economic and cultural relations with the East.

(3) Write an essay which makes an argument about the nature of Shakespeare's interest in Law (or Justice). Focus on two plays.

(4) Write a theater-historical essay on one of Shakespeare's plays. How does said play reflect some aspect of early modern theatrical culture (the requirements of certain performance spaces, commercial trends in the theater business, Shakespeare's company being taken under royal patronage in 1603, certain acting styles, different theater audiences).

(5) Choose one play and analyze it in the context of a historical event of your choice.

(6) Write an essay that looks at Protestantism as a source for a key theme or tension in one or two plays of your choice.

(7) Write a historically grounded essay on homoeroticism in one or two of Shakespeare's plays or sonnets.

(8) Choose one play and analyze it in the context of one sixteenth or seventeenth-century philosopher of your choice.

Final Project, Option 2: Directing Project

This assignment is both creative and interpretive. Indeed, it aims to heighten our appreciation for the fact that creative and artistic practice is a form of applied critical thinking and, vice versa, that critical thinking can and should be creative.

A successful Directing Project (i.e. B or better) must be grounded in rigorous interpretive engagement with the text (which should be communicated to me in the written portion of the assignment) and executed with genuine creativity (which should be communicated to me in a serious and engaging final aesthetic product).

Here’s how it goes.

PERFORMANCE COMPONENT: For this project, you will play the role of director. You must conceive, develop, plan, and execute your own performance of a scene of your choice from a play of your choice. There are no qualitative or quantitative requirements on this front. You can choose a scene, a part of a scene, whatever (but please don’t do “To be or not to be.”). As long as you successfully present it as a coherent unit of performance and show me that you've put serious critical and interpretive thought into it, you’re doing your job.

You may enlist friends or family members as performers; you may also perform yourself, but it’s not required. Just make sure the people you involve are up for the task and capable of memorizing lines. It goes without saying that good acting makes for a stronger final product.

The performance must be filmed. (You're welcome to use a phone.)

WRITTEN COMPONENT: Along with the film you must submit a detailed, 3-page “Performance Description.” This document should describe the choices you made (in terms of performance, scenography, casting, soundscape, etc.) and how they create a certain desired effect or contribute to a certain interpretation. I can't emphasize enough how important this part of the assignment is. The Performance Description is the only record I will have of the critical-thinking process you went through in order to arrive at your creative decisions. It's the part of the assignment that puts it on equal footing with the Research Paper in terms of intellectual rigor. So make sure you take the thinking process--and the Performance Description that records it--seriously. Doing so will also, inevitably, lead to a better aesthetic product. The “Performance Description” should be written in a formal and precise manner like a short essay.

HOW TO SUBMIT: As with all our assignments, the Directing Project must be emailed to me by the due date. The easiest way to go about this is to upload your film to YouTube and email me the link (don’t set the film to “private”; I won’t be able to view it). Put your performance description in the body of the same email. (I suggest you compose it in Word to make sure it's the right length and then paste it in.) If you prefer to embed your film in a blog or upload it to some other web platform and then send me the link to that, go right ahead. Don’t send me a video file as an attachment, though—too many potential technical difficulties.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Performing Richard
The deposition scene (The Hollow Crown, PBS)
The deposition scene (David Tenant as Richard, RSC 2013)
Act 3.2 (Mark Rylance as Richard, Shakespeare's Globe 2003)

We will also look at the 1978 BBC production on DVD with Derek Jacobi as Richard

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paper 1

Length: 4-5 pages
Due: February 26 (any time before midnight)

How to Submit: Send your paper to me as an email attachment. My address is The paper should be in Word format (.doc or .docx). The title of the document should be your last name ("Johnson.doc"). The subject line of the email should be the assignment title ("Paper 1").

Returning assignments: I will return your papers to you by email. The grade and my comments will be inserted using Word's "Comment" feature, so you'll need to open the attached paper as a Word doc to see it. (There's always an option to open an email attachment as a webpage rather than downloading it--that won't work.) 

Requirements: This is a very simply, focused, and short paper assignment, but it has to be done well. Write an essay that responds to one of the three questions below. The essay should focus exclusively on the play itself. You don't need to incorporate any historical or cultural context, nor are you required to engage with any secondary sources. For a successful paper, three things are important:
  • You need a specific argument articulated clearly in the first paragraph. 
  • The body of the essay should be devoted to "proving" that your argument is correct. You do this by providing evidence from the play itself. The body of the essay, that is, should feature quotations from the play that support your central claim. These quotations should be engaged with and discussed. Show me what they mean and how they serve your argument.
  • The writing must be formal, clear, and free from careless mistakes and errors of grammar and spelling. 


(1) Does A Midsummer Night's Dream ultimately reinforce the institution of marriage or question it? (No matter which side you come down on, be sure to make a specific argument about why that is so and how it is effected. i.e. Your thesis statement shouldn't be simply, "A Midsummer Night's Dream questions the institution of marriage." Go further. Give me a couple more sentences that give details and make a more specific claim.)

(2) What kind of thematic or conceptual importance does performance have in either A Midsummer Night's Dream or Richard II?

(3) How does the deposition scene in Richard II affect the audience's appraisal of Richard, of Bollingbrook, and of the larger political dispute they are wrapped up in?

Good luck! Have fun with it!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The UNT Medieval and Renaissance Colloquium

PROGRAM, Spring 2014

Friday, January17, 2014, 4:30 p.m. (AUD 103)

“Gender Legal Fictions in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
Jessica D. Ward (MA Candidate, English, UNT)

“Land, Water, Woman: Place, Identity, and Coudrette’s Mélusine in Late Medieval Poitou”
Shana Thompson (MA Candidate, Art History, UNT)

Friday, February 28, 2014, 4:00 p.m. (AUD 103)

Kevin Curran, “Literature and Law” (Associate Prof, English, UNT)
Kelly Wisecup, “Literature and Medicine” (Assistant Prof, English, UNT)
Stephanie Hawkins, “Literature and Science” (Associate Prof, English, UNT)

Friday, April 4, 2014, 12:00 p.m. (WILLIS 443)
Workshop: “Paleography and Medieval Manuscripts”
Nicole Smith (Associate Prof, English, UNT)
Sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta

Thursday, April 24, 2014, 3:30 p.m. (ENV 125)

“Chaucer's Lyf of St. Cecilia: Religion and Politics”
David Aers (Professor, English, Religious Studies and Historical Theology, Duke University)

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