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wcu english

English 431:01

Mary Adams, Instructor

  • Course meets on TR 11 a.m. in Coulter 204
  • Office Hours: TR 2 p.m. or by appointment

Course Objectives

This course helps you to learn more about Shakespeare in the context of the time he lived. The two critical books we'll read, 1599 and The King's Playwright, 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.

Academic integrity policy and process

This policy addresses academic integrity violations of undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate students should read inside the parenthesis below to identify the appropriate entities in charge of that step of the process.

Students, faculty, staff, and administrators of Western Carolina University (WCU) strive to achieve the highest standards of scholarship and integrity. Any violation of the Academic Integrity Policy is a serious offense because it threatens the quality of scholarship and undermines the integrity of the community. While academic in scope, any violation of this policy is by nature, a violation of the Code of Student Conduct and will follow the same conduct process (see ArticleVII.B.1.a.). If the charge occurs close to the end of an academic semester or term or in the event of the reasonable need of either party for additional time to gather information timelines may be extended at the discretion of the Department of Student Community Ethics (DSCE).

Violations of the Academic Integrity Policy include:

  • Cheating - Using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information, or study aids in any academic exercise.
  • Fabrication – Creating and/or falsifying information or citation in any academic exercise.
  • Plagiarism - Representing the words or ideas of someone else as one’s own in any academic exercise.
  • Facilitation - Helping or attempting to help someone to commit a violation of the Academic Integrity Policy in any academic exercise (e.g. allowing another to copy information during an examination)

Any violation of the Academic Integrity Policy will result in no less than failure of the assignment and, if aggregious enough, failure of the course. I report all violations to Student Community Ethics. I am required to meet with you to discuss any violations,and will withold your grade until you have attended that meeting and signed all required forms.

WCU instructors reserve the right to use plagiarism prevention software (such as SafeAssignment.com), library resources, as well as Google, Yahoo, and/or other Internet search engines to determine whether or not student papers have been plagiarized. With plagiarism prevention software, instructors may upload student papers into a
searchable database or teach students how to upload their own work as part of the course requirements.

Disability statement 

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: Western Carolina University is committed to providing equal educational opportunities for students with documented disabilities and/or medical conditions.  Students who require reasonable accommodations must identify themselves as having a disability and/or medical condition and provide current diagnostic documentation to Disability Services.  All information is confidential.  Please contact the Office of Disability Services for more information at (828) 227-3886 or lalexis@wcu.edu  You may also visit the office’s website:  disability.wcu.edu 



  • Read Shapiro's 1599: A year in the Life of Shakespeare. We are reading this entire book during the semester. It is long, but is is very readable. The book and its bibliographical essay in the back will provide the basis for several of the presentation topics. If you get this book out of the way early, your semester will be easier later on.
  • Quizzes: *A note on quizzes: 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 or Reading Sheets (RS): These are due the Friday after we finish each play. Hand these in online (email them as an attachment). No journals will be accepted late. No ungraded journals will count towards your final grade. You cannot do well if you don't do these reading sheets.
  • Papers: Students will do one close reading (approx 1000 wordprimary source paper) plus one research paper (7-10 pages) during the semester. For each paper, I will require a thesis first, then notes or quotes, 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.
  • Literary Festival: You must attend and write up two literary festival events.



Grades will be assessed as follows:

Assignment % of Grade Word Count

  • Paper 1: due in stages 10%
  • Paper 2: research Paper 25%
  • Final exam 15%
  • Quizzes 15%
  • Imagery Analysis Entries: 20%
  • Participation 10%
  • Two lit festival writeups 5%

  • TOTAL: 100%

Dr. Mary Adams, instructor
last updated 12-jan-15