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wcu english

English 431:01

Mary Adams, Instructor

  • Course meets on MWF at 12:20 to 1:10 in Coulter 204
  • Office Hours: MWF 10-11, Coulter 418 (call first) or by appointment

Course Objectives

This course helps you to learn more about Shakespeare in the context of the time he lived. The critical book we'll read, A Year in the Life of Shakespeare: 1599 will help us understand that period and its special concerns.

Many of you are teachers, so I will spend some time discussing teaching strategies and resources.

A note on comprehension, or why is Shakespeare so hard to read?

  1. Old words. One of the first difficulties of any Shakespeare class is comprehending the language. Shakespeare wrote in early modern English; that means that he uses essentially the English we use today, with a few holdovers from older versions of the language. Old English was inflected; that means its words often changed form to reflect person, number, and case. Shakespeare's verbs sometimes use the old endings, and he uses both medieval and modern versions of his pronouns. His vocabulary was large and difficult, even for his peers; for example, Shakespeare coined as many as 500 new words. Some of the words he uses are unfamiliar to us because they are regional or slang, and some have dropped out of the language.
  2. Unfamiliar word order. Shakespeare had a Latin education, and Latin syntax (sentence order) was more complex than modern English syntax. Moreover, Shakespeare loved to use flowery tropes (stylized syntactical patterns), so learning to read his language is tough.
  3. Verse. Perhaps the hardest part of the language, however, is the fact that it is often in verse. Most students don't know how to read verse well; they stop at the end of the line instead of the end of the sentence. They're not used to the metrical patterns he used, and they don't realize how conversational they can sound.

Some people resort to translations into modern English, but they are not only a bad crutch, but they keep you from understanding what makes Shakespeare really great, his language. So please don't use them. I promise you, if you folllow my instructions, the plays will get easier.

Therefore, the best way to learn to read Shakespeare is to act out his plays. Actors must force themselves to understand every word, every nuance, every beat, every rhetorical flourish. They must learn how to make the language sound as natural to us as it did to Shakespeare's audience.

But since we aren't actors, the second best way to learn to read Shakespeare closely and well is to listen to audio while you're reading. I have provided audio files of all the plays, and I urge you to listen to them while you're reading. Don't make the mistake of watching film versions to aid in comprehension; most films rearrange scene order, and they cut up to 80% of the play. Films are useful to think about interpreting the plays, but comprehension comes first.

I'm also going to give you "imagery analysis" assignments that will probably annoy you. But they aren't busy work; they are tools to help you read Shakespeare slowly, closely, and well.

Other course goals:

Upon completion of this class, students will have the following skills:

  1. Critical Reading of Primary Texts
    Students will read critically a wide variety of works of Shakespeare, including plays and poems, and gain a new understanding of his language.
  2. Critical Writing About Primary Texts
    Students analyze and interpret in writing those works of English literature using appropriate evidence, conventions, and language
  3. Improved understanding of Shakespeare's age and the context of his work.
    Students will learn about the Shakespeare's audience and his influences. They will read the plays in the context of the political, cultural, scientific, and religious contexts in which they were written.
  4. Rudimentary understanding of theoretical approaches to Shakespeare.
    Students will strive to understand formal, new historical, feminist, eco-critical, and textual scholarship as it perftains to Shakespeare's plays.
  5. Oral Presentation and Critical Discussion
    discuss and present, in an informed manner, ideas about or relating Shakespeare and his age.


Attendance policy

This class meets twice a week, so I begin lowering your grade by one letter after four missed classes. That includes excused or unexcused absences; I don't care why you're absent. However, here are some good tips regarding attendance:

  • Don't schedule doctor's appointments during my class.
  • Don't schedule makeup classes or exams for other instructors during my class.
  • Don't shedule rehearsals, trips home, family reunions, or trips to see your significant other during my class.
  • Don't leave my class before it is over or arrive more than 10 minutes after it has begun. I count those as absences.
  • Frequent lateness equals an absence.
  • Try to save your absences for illness and emergencies.
  • Above all, find out what you missed and what's required for the next class. You are responsibe for all missed material. I don't like emails asking if you missed anything.

I do excuse university absences when I am required to do so (university sponsored trips, etc.) but I expect you to find out what you missed and do the work you missed.

Digital incivility

You may use an ebook reader in my class, but please don't use a computer, phone, or laptop for anything else. Turn your phones off and put them away (not in your lap or on your desk). If I discover that you're on Facebook, email, texting, browsing, or using any digital resources except for our textbook, I will mark you absent and ask you to leave.

If you need to use a computer to take notes or if you have a disability that requires the use of certain tools, please let me know in advance.

I reserve the right to check your computer's screen to make sure you're following my policy. If you put it away when I try to look at it, I will assume you are breaking my rules and will mark you absent and ask you to leave.


  • Read Shapiro's 1599: A year in the Life of Shakespeare We are reading this entire book during the semester. It is long but readable. The books and their bibliographical essays in the back will provide the basis for several of the presentation topics. If you get these books out of the way early, your semester will be easier later on.
  • Quizzes: *A note on quizzes: Right now, they are all open-note quizzes, so bring your notes! For all quizzes, check syllabus to see if quiz guide link is active. The quiz guide link is listed in the right-hand column of the previous class; that column is headed "homework for next class." If a quiz is scheduled, the link will be active 24 hours before class begins. To make sure you're looking at the most recent version of the page, hit CTRL + F5 (PC) or Apple + R / Command + R (Apple).
    Note that if students don't seem to be comleting the readings, I will give unannounced quizzes as well.
  • Imagery Analysis: These are due before the last class for each play (so, for example, if Hamlet is due Friday, your imagery analysis for Hamlet is due at noon on that day). Hand these in on Blackboard (see Content, Writing Assignments folder). No imagery analyses will be accepted late. No ungraded assignments will count towards your final grade. You cannot do well if you don't do these.
  • Papers: Students will do one close reading (approx 1000 word primary source paper) plus one research paper (7-10 pages) during the semester. The reseasrch paper is an expansion of the first paper. For each paper, I will require a thesis first, then notes or quotes, then a group conference, and then a completed draft. All parts will receive a grade. I will not accept the final paper if you have not met the other deadlines.



Grades will be assessed as follows:

Assignment % of Grade Word Count

  • Paper 1: due in stages 20%
  • Paper 2: research Paper 20%
  • Quizzes 15%
  • Imagery Analysis Entries: 30%
  • Participation 15%

  • TOTAL: 100%

Dr. Mary Adams, instructor
last updated 15-jan-18