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Summer Quarter '06 - English 323:

Shakespeare Before 1603


Course Description

Just about everybody has heard of Shakespeare. His plays have for four centuries dominated the English stage, and have deeply influenced the dramatic and cinematic traditions of countless other language cultures as well. But not everybody has liked reading Shakespeare. Indeed, a lot of people have no idea why so much is made of Shakespeare in the first place! Having been myself driven through Hamlet line by line in the twelfth grade, I do understand that point of view. (That’s probably why I started college as a chemistry major.) For those reasons among others, the chief goal of this class will be to make you more informed, confident, active, and, especially, happy readers of Shakespeare’s plays. Starting with a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, we’ll then go on to four of his best-known early to mid-career work: Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, the first part of Henry IV, and As You Like It. As a final term project you will also be choosing one of Shakespeare’s other early plays to read and report on, both to extend your acquaintance with Shakespeare’s works and to demonstrate to yourself as well as to me your newly acquired Shakespeare reading skills. By the end of the quarter you will thus have had an introduction to a good range of his earlier plays, and with just a little luck, you will have enjoyed doing it too. (Evening Degree students only.)


Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III; photocopied course packet.


Shakespeare Before 1603

 TuTh Smith 407 
Office phone: 543-6203
           Padelford B-432: TuTh 5:00-6:00, and by appt 

The chief goal of this class is to make you more informed, confident and, especially, active readers of Shakespeare’s plays. We will approach this goal in three ways. First, we will be reading and discussing a small number of texts closely in order both that you become skilled readers of Shakespeare’s literary language, and that you leave the class familiar with a few of his early plays. Some of our work will be in full-class settings; some in small groups.

Second, because drama best comes to life when read aloud, I will ask you to prepare oral presentations several times during the quarter—reading short passages from the plays we study. We’ll learn a little about doing this well—and you will end the quarter SO HAPPY that we did this!

Third, I strongly believe in the value of writing as a means of learning. It is one thing to read a poem or a play; it is quite another to write about it coherently. Writing requires that you engage actively with your reading, and ensures that you—and everyone else in the class—come ready to contribute to the general class thinking. Accordingly, you'll be writing something for every class meeting—usually something informal, a "response" paper of no more than two pages. Further, you will be submitting all of your writing in your Shakespeare Portfolio—a collection of all the writing you do for the quarter, along with a Self-reflective Essay describing your experience in this class.

Structured writing for the course will include three formal writings. At least one of them will be in class. Midterm due dates are noted on the reading schedule. Finally, you will also be organizing a group presentation on a play we don’t cover in class.

Course Grading: 400 Points, apportioned in the following way (Rev as of Aug 4):

Midterm 1 ...........................................90
Midterm 2 .........................................100
Midterm 3 (Final) ..............................110
Drama Presentation ....(dropped for lack of time)
Portfolio .............................................60
Attendance/Participation .....................40

The actual relation between total points accumulated and final grade is not entirely fixed; rather, I adjust to allow for the highest achieved total. Last Fall, 380+ (not 400) was a 4.0; 320+ was a 3.0. The class GPA was 3.23.

Why so much writing? Several reasons. First, writing is the single most effective way most of us have to make the learning we do active. The mere reading of assignments, by contrast, is an essentially passive process. Though your mind goes through steps enough to make the reading make sense, it rarely goes much beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the conceptual frameworks you already have with any kind of strength or resilience. Most restricting of all, however, is that without active and engaged work with pen (or computer) and paper your mind will also not do the re-structuring of conceptual frameworks you will need to make yourself comfortable with the active reading of early modern literature.

Second, the writing you do will also prepare you for our time together in class. With your having been actively engaged in a writing project, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more efficient, and every person in the class will actually have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. Our work will be more interesting because you will have already made progress on the day's work before class even begins.

Third, you will simply learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don't already know, and will give you constant practice with the skills that the active reading of Shakespeare (and much else) requires.

Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks an English major is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be doing constant writing—so much so that it doesn't feel like quite such a big deal in the first place.

What I want. My criterion for these papers is ECI: "engaged critical intelligence." You don't have to be "right," and you don't have to be polished. You don't even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do want to see real effort, even if it's only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? In the past some students have spent too much time and anxiety on these responses. Please understand: I'm not asking for a series of "English papers." I call them "response papers" to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an engaged critical intelligence both to the reading and to my question(s) about it. In specific terms that means: I expect from you either TWO typed pages, or ONE hour of writing. If you truly want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don't go over two pages.

My response to your responses. While I certainly want your papers to be coherent, the daily papers are not supposed to be fully finished works. And because they are informal in this way, I will also not generally read them with the same close attention I will give to your formal work. Their primary usefulness is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get much more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would— and end of quarter evaluations from earlier classes confirm that most students agree.

Moreover my intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I will not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though you will be collecting them as you complete them, and turning them in as part of the course portfolio at quarter's end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the "OK," "good," or "I'd like to see more thinking going on here" variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, please come talk with me during my office hours.)

Late Papers. I do not read late response papers. With the reading of 12-14 sets of papers over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already.

Truth in packaging disclosure:

1. In past quarters, most students have rated this class as useful and relevant. But when students haven't liked it, they have complained that they never understood what I was asking them to do. I take that concern seriously; in class I try hard both to explain and to demonstrate what I want, and the Course Packet has many pages devoted to similar explanations. But many of you will find active reading very difficult. I encourage you to ask questions or to visit me in my office hours. In the end, however, it is your responsibility to get help. DON'T PUT IT OFF!! Most students in the class will indeed "get it," but if you think you may be one who is not getting it, then you must take an active role in getting extra help.

2. Because they are writing for every class session, students report working more on this class than they generally do for other classes. The average time spent runs between 10-12 hours per week, but some report they worked as much as 15-16 hours (still within the average of 3 hours per credit which the University sets as its standard for 5 credit classes, but more than you may be able to spend).

3. The median grade (50% above, 50% below) in my upper division classes runs anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That is NOT the bottom grade, it is the median grade. That means that a number of you will indeed get a 2.5 or a 2.7 or a 3.0, even though you may have done better than that elsewhere. If that is going to make you unhappy, then, again, you should get into a different class.

4. Attendance and Participation are part of the course: they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I take role randomly during the quarter; I also use my review of your portfolio work to evaluate your class participation. Incomplete portfolios mean incomplete participation.

5. All assignments must be completed on time. Your score on any paper reflects whether your work has met this requirement.

So much for the work you'll be doing. Now for a word of caution and of reassurance. Although this is an upper division class, I know that some of you will not have read much sixteenth-century literature. Not to worry. Renaissance literature isn't hard so much as it is distant in time and language. Once you've grown used to Shakespeare’s English, and provided you do the reading and writing carefully and on time, you should be able to keep up with the work (see paragraph 2 above in Truth in Packaging). If, however, for some reason you expect to be missing class, or to be unable to keep up with the assigned work, then I very strongly urge you to find something else to take!!!

Tentative Reading/Discussion Schedule

(Revised 20 July 2006)

June 20: Introduction.

June 22: Begin Much Ado About Nothing. Read Act 1.

June 24: Much Ado About Nothing.

June 26: Finish MAAN, and begin Richard III.

July 4—no school today!

July 6: Richard III.

July 11: Richard III at The Intiman Theatre.

July 13: Virtual class by e-mail response paper.

July 18: Richard III and Intro to 1 Henry IV.

July 20: 1 Henry IV.

July 25: 1 Henry IV.

July 27: 1 Henry IV. Take home midterm assigned—due Aug 1.

August 1: 1 Henry IV, conclusion and Intro to As You Like It. Midterm assignment due. (Make Group Presentation Assignment)

August 3: As You Like It. Paper Assigned.

August 8: As You Like It.

August 10: As You Like It. Paper Due.

August 15: Final Exam selection election (see Assignments page).

August 17: Final. (Portfolio Due).



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