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Studies in Shakespeare (339-0-20)


Green Worlds? Shakespeare's Environmental Question


Laurie J Shannon
847 4913643
University Hall Room 214

Meeting Info

Kresge Centennial Hall 2-343: Mon, Wed 3:30PM - 4:50PM

Overview of class

This seminar will work across Shakespeare's genres (comedies, tragedies, and tragicomic hybrids), focusing on representative plays that also show a preoccupation with humanity's cosmic place and environmental situation.

The course will explore Shakespeare's persistently troubled sense that humankind, alone, does not quite "belong" to nature. We'll assess how his understanding of "Nature" and our relation to it changes over his career and also how it varies in the distinct ecologies of tragedy and comedy. The critical concept of Shakespearean "green worlds" first arose to describe those retreats into nature (and away from civilized society) that typically occur in the comedies. There, a removal to the "green world" serves to counteract one or another social ill, which in turn enables a rebalanced, healthier socio-political life to be restored. But how does this traditional and sometimes pastoral sense of a natural equilibrium hold up against a closer reading of the plays, especially if we consider comedies and tragedies together? Against what, exactly, is the human order of civil life defined and established, and from what threatening "laws of nature" is it supposed to defend us? How does our grasp of more contemporary human impacts on the environment illuminate Shakespeare's premodern vision of human existence as a calamity of exposure -- to hard weather and our own worst instincts, too? This inquiry into Shakespeare's environmental vision will, finally, tell us something about the history of what it has meant to be human.

Teaching Method

Lecture and discussion.

Evaluation Method

Sustained and substantive class participation and two papers.

Class Materials (Required)

Readings will be chosen from among Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale; brief contextual readings in early modern natural history, theology, and political thought will be supplied by the instructor.

Class Attributes

Advanced Expression
Literature and Arts Foundational Discipline
Literature & Fine Arts Distro Area