Course: Political Shakespeare

HC 421H

Professor: Rebecca Lindner

In this course, we will look at the political dimensions of Shakespeare’s plays by bringing them into dialogue with insights from political theory, intellectual history, and comparative literature. We will address questions such as:

  • How did Shakespeare think about kingship, statesmanship, citizenship, and the violence of political life in the Renaissance era?
  • How did he respond to new social, political, and intellectual developments in the course of his long career as a playwright?
  • How do his plays problematize or intervene in the many political debates of the period – an important era of transition marked by war, revolution, religious upheaval, and European colonialism.
  • And, last but not least, in what ways are the dilemmas confronting Shakespeare’s characters still relevant for readers today? To what extent might these plays provide helpful insights into contemporary political issues and the politics of identity?

In addition to reading a selection of Shakespeare’s plays (which may include The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest), we will also read extracts from the following texts in political theory and intellectual history: Machiavelli, The Prince (1513); Thomas More, Utopia (1516); Erasmus, Education of a Christian Prince (1516); James VI/I, The Trew Law of Free Monarchies (1598); and Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies (1957).