2019 - 2020

  Humanist Shakespeare  
Prof. Noam ReisnerGilman-humanities277 Mon1000-1200 Sem  1
Gilman-humanities277 Mon1000-1200 Sem  1
University credit hours:  4.0

Course description

Humanist Shakespeare – Core Course Shakespeare  -  שייקספיר בראי ההומניזם – קורס

 ליבה שייקספיר


Was Shakespeare a renaissance humanist? This slightly misleading question will govern our thinking about Shakespearean drama in this course. While the cultural developments associated with the rise of humanism in education and learning throughout Europe in the fifteen and sixteenth undoubtedly shaped Shakespeare’s imagination, it is hard to account for the importance of humanist ideas in Shakespeare’s overall understanding of the ‘human’. Perhaps, however, the problem is different: are we too much beholden to later conceptualisations of Shakespeare as the great post-Enlightenment poet of the ‘human’ in the Romantic and Victorian traditions which in fact elide the cultural specifity of the Renaissance humanism which formed the basis of Shakespeare’s formative education? In this course we will attempt to address these questions by reading a group of representative Shakespearean plays against a range of topics and issues central to the Renaissance humanist outlook on the active man of letters, in ethics and morality, law and political sovereignty, social order and reform, and the new anthropology of man as a microcosm of contraries.  In each case, we will assess the extent to which our understanding of a given intellectual context of Renaissance humanism can shed light on, or otherwise complicate, our understanding of a given Shakespearean play in how it speaks to us today about our own human condition. This will also allow us to explore more widely the question of Shakespeare’s universalism and its grounding in specific Renaissance concepts that speak to our own culturally-determined sense of ‘modernity’.


Primary texts: We will focus on six plays by Shakespeare, read in this sequence: The Taming of the Shrew, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, King Lear, The Tempest.  Participation in the course will require the use of fully-annotated single-play editions. The best single play editions are those of the Arden Shakespeare, but it is also possible to use either the Oxford Shakespeare (Norton), or Cambridge. Further details on texts and editions will be provided in class and on the course website.


Requirements: Attendance, a midterm exam (worth 30% of grade), a final take-home exam (70% grade).

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