Shakespeare I • ENGL 4230

Spring 2016 Mon / Wed, 12:30-1:45

Shakespeare Engraving
Image from the title page of the Shakespeare First Folio (1623)

Shakespeare I examines the work of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) during the first half of his career. We will study the work Shakespeare produced under the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603), before King James ascended to the throne of England. While Shakespeare had no problem writing on either side of the regnal line, this class offers us an opportunity to ask how the plays and poems engage with late-Elizabethan England and the challenges of that cultural moment. The primary goal of the class will be to read closely Shakespeare’s work; but we will also learn about the contemporary culture that fostered Shakespeare’s work. The class will pursue questions concerning the social, economic, and political landscapes, how books were printed, how authors used source material, and what theatrical performances entailed. Ultimately, I hope, we will gain a significant understanding of Shakespeare’s work, its complexities, and why it endures today.

As this an upper-division course, students will be expected to write extensively at an advanced level. At the semester’s conclusion, students will have written approximately 10-15 pages in assignments and quizzes, and approximately 15-20 pages of formal essays. Students will write in MLA format, with proper use of citations and layout, and will be expected to have some experience with academic arguments in literary studies. That being said, I will offer students guidance to electronic and print resources for the study of Shakespeare. I have designed the course so that the weekly work of writing will help students explore and prepare for the formal essay assignments. In addition to wrestling with Shakespeare’s work, we will also periodically discuss how to write about literature, how to approach a research essay, and how to use the drafting process.

Course Objectives:
As a result of completing this class, students should be able to:

  • Read the plays and poems with a sophisticated grasp of detail, source, and shape
  • Use reference tools and digital resources for studying the Renaissance
  • Connect Shakespeare to English Renaissance culture and its material conditions
  • Develop an understanding of critical and theoretical conversations on Shakespeare’s work
  • Draw thematic, political, social, or economic connections between different works
  • Develop a critical lens to assess Shakespearean performances on stage and film
“What is your text?”
In an effort to keep costs reasonable, I will not assign an official textbook. There are a number of excellent editions of Shakespeare’s plays, including those published by Arden, Pelican, Norton, Longman, Bedford, Signet, and Folger. I leave the choice up to you and your wallet. You do want to make sure the edition has been published fairly recently and comes with scholarly notes and annotations – see me for assistance. Online versions, however, will not do.

I recommend The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al, 2nd edition (Norton, 51iBi3w686L._SL500_AA300_2011; a new edition has also just been published). It is a student-friendly text with excellent notes, current references, and offers the complete works at an affordable cost. (Buying the collected works is usually less expensive than 11 individual copies.) This will be the edition I use for my lecture notes and handouts. Many Shakespeare editions are different (for reasons we will cover in class) and if you opt to use another edition it may at times be difficult to find specific citations. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Recommended Text:
Russ McDonald, Bedford Guide to Shakespeare, 2nd edition (2001). This well-written guide provides students with the cultural, economic, political, and artistic background to Shakespeare’s life and work. It is accessible and extremely helpful.

Blackboard & Class Site:
Our class website ( site will have the most up-to-date calendar as well as links to resources and directions for assignments and papers. I recommend you regularly visit our page. Students will also submit all of their work through Blackboard ( where I will also provide feedback and grades.

You will need to purchase a subscription to the online service TopHat ( The semester subscription is $24.00, which you will need for in-class quizzes, attendance, lecture notes, and exercises. You will not be able to pass this class without this tool, so please sign up immediately and let me know if you have any questions.

• A note on TopHat. The online service is an advanced version of classroom clickers that will help us in and out of the classroom. To use the service in class, you will need to bring either a laptop, smartphone, tablet, cell phone with texting, or other device connected to the internet. If you do not own one of these devices, or cannot not regularly bring one to class, please let me know as soon as possible. We can find alternatives so that you do not fall behind or harm your grade.

Grade Breakdown:

  • Paper 1 (20%): 4-5 pages. Our first paper will ask you to produce a close reading of a passage from one of Shakespeare’s works. A detailed assignment sheet and grading rubric will be distributed; but generally the paper will ask students to analyze Shakespeare’s language and rhetorical decisions and to argue for the passage’s importance to the larger work.
  • Paper 2 (25%): 5-7 pages. The second paper will ask you to write an argument paper in response to Shakespeare in performance, either on stage or on film. I will distribute a list of performances and we will work carefully on examining the decisions directors and actors make when translating the page to the stage. A detailed assignment sheet and grading rubric will be provided, as well as examples of how to make an argument concerning performance.
  • Paper 3 (30%): 6-8 pages. Directions will be given later in the semester, and you will be asked to submit an initial proposal; together we will devise a plan for the paper’s subject. Possible research paper topics include: printing history; use of primary sources; performance interpretation, including staging, doubling, or uses of props; modern receptions or performances; political contexts and challenges; questions on gender, race, or class. Early in the semester I will provide students with a grading rubric and detailed instructions for the assignment. We will discuss this in class and students will have ample opportunities to discuss topics and arguments before the paper is due.
  • Participation (25%): Under this category falls our weekly discussion, quizzes, and short writing assignments. This steady, less formal work will be the bedrock of your progress through the semester as well use the assignments and discussions to test ideas, puzzle through questions, refine thinking, and accumulate understanding of Shakespeare’s texts.

Grade distribution:
A: 100-94; A-: 93-90; B+: 89-87; B: 86-84; B-: 83-80; C+: 79-77; C: 76-74; C-:73-70; D+: 69-67; D: 66-64; F: 63-0

This is a 3 credit course, as defined by federal regulation. You should expect to complete 6 hours of work outside class each week for approximately 15 weeks, for a total of 90 hours of outside-of-class work.

Because we meet twice a week, attendance is crucial. Each class meeting we will hear presentations, take quizzes, discuss the work in detail, organize our interpretations and questions, and contextualize the work within Renaissance culture and our own. Therefore, missing more than five class meetings will result in a failure. (I do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences.) Students who enter class late three times, or who play with electronic gadgets, will earn an absence. If you miss a quiz or in-class exercise, these may not be made up. Please use absences

Office Hours and Email:
If you cannot meet during my scheduled office hours please let me know (in person) so we can arrange a time; we can also use Skype (user name: profpetersen) or some other virtual meeting arrangement during office hours. Feel free to email me as well, although I have found that for anything beyond a simple question it is far more productive, and enjoyable, to talk face-to-face. You must use your official UML email account and check it regularly. I do not check my email after 5 pm so please give me ample time to respond.

* A note on email etiquette: While we treat email as a quick and informal way to communicate, I ask that you consider how you represent yourself and your audience. For all email, please use the subject line to tell me which class you are in, and use an appropriate greeting and signature. An email that begins with “Dear Professor” and ends with “Sincerely,” makes a strong impression and asks your reader to take seriously your question or request. Emails with text abbreviations or grammatical mistakes often frustrate readers and undermine your intent.

Because we meet twice a week, attendance is crucial. Each class meeting we will hear presentations, take quizzes, discuss the work in detail, organize our interpretations and questions, and contextualize the work within Renaissance culture and our own. Therefore, missing more than five class meetings will result in a failure. (I do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences.) Students who enter class late three times, or who play with electronic gadgets, will earn an absence. If you miss a quiz or in-class exercise, these may not be made up. Please use absences wisely.

In accordance with University policy and the ADA, I will happily accommodate students with documented disabilities confirmed by the Office of Disability Services at University Crossing, 220 Pawtucket St, Suite #300, phone: 978-934-4574, e-mail: (978-934-4574). If you have a documented disability that will necessitate academic accommodations, please notify me in the first week of classes so that we might make appropriate arrangements. If you will miss class due to religious observances or other protected activities, please see me in advance so that we can plan for any change to due dates, etc.

Plagiarism is presenting the work of another as your own or not acknowledging the work of another. As college students and adults you are responsible for understanding the college’s rules for academic honesty and asking me to explain any confusion you may have about plagiarism. Please see the University’s policy for more information: ( We will discuss this in class. It is always better to consult me ahead of time about any questions you may have; after a paper is turned in, there is nothing I can do. Cases of plagiarism will not be tolerated and will result in a failure in the course with possible University sanctions.

Week 1, 1/19
Introductions; Read Norton Intro (via Tophat)

Week 2, 1/25
Delving into Shakespeare’s language

Week 3, 2/1
Romeo & Juliet

Week 4, 2/8
Midsummer Night’s Dream

Week 5, 2/15
Richard III
Paper 1 Due

Week 6, 2/22
Shakespeare on Film: Shakespeare in Love

Week 7, 2/29
Merchant of Venice

Week 8, 3/7
Julius Caesar

Spring Recess
Paper 2 Due

Week 9, 3/21
As You Like It

Week 10, 3/28

Week 11, 4/4
Twelfth Night

Week 12, 4/11
Research and Bibliographies

Week 13, 4/18

Week 14, 4/25
Final Paper Due