ENG483H1S - L0101

Advanced Studies Seminar: Shakespeare's Political Drama


Tuesday 10 am - 12 pm


Dr. Philippa Sheppard

E-mail: philippa.sheppard@utoronto.ca

Brief Description of Course

More than a third of Shakespeare’s dramatic works are based on historical accounts, ten on English history. In this course, we explore the four finest examples of this history play genre, which Shakespeare helped to invent. While these four plays are closely interlinked, they display a variety of modes. Richard II is highly literary, aesthetic, and tragic, reminiscent in style of Shakespeare’s earlier history play, King John. Yet, this play was also very topical, so much so that one of its performances was viewed as an igniting incident in a rebellion against Elizabeth I which resulted in her favourite, the Earl of Essex’s execution. Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 incorporate much comedy and fascinate us with glimpses of London at the time of composition. Henry V divides its audience into those who believe it glorifies war and the monarchy, and those who think the opposite is true. In all four plays, the fate of England as a kingdom looms larger than the fate of individual protagonists. Using a variety of theoretical lenses such as new historicism, masculinity studies, and performance history, we will investigate what these plays suggest about the human being as a political animal.

Required Reading(s)

  • Oxford editions of Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V
  • Some excerpts from primary source material such as Holinshed’s Chronicles, The Mirror for Magistrates, The Homilies (against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion)
  • Machiavelli’s The Prince
  • Some contemporary scholarly articles

First Three Authors/Texts

  • Richard II
  • 1 Henry IV
  • 2 Henry IV

Method of Evaluation

The research essay will be broken down into several components:

  • One essay proposal (10%)
  • One annotated bibliography (10%)
  • One seminar presentation (20%)
  • Final essay (45%)
  • Participation (15%)