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 Spring 2024

Cosmopolitanism and Insularity in Shakespeare’s Plays

1Henry VI
The Merchant of Venice
The Tempest

Shakespeare’s plays occur in England and sometimes in imaginary spaces. But he also takes us to countless foreign locations: Austria, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Spain, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. How do the plays explore this paradox of England’s cosmopolitanism and insularity? As an island, England did not occupy a noticeable physical position on the world maps of the period, yet its political power became undeniable under Queen Elizabeth. To explore
England’s cosmopolitanism and insularity, we will concentrate on the women in 1Henry VI, The Merchant of Venice, and The Tempest because they illustrate England’s foreign and domestic policies and tensions. Starting with 1Henry VI, we will focus on two remarkable historical figures, Joan of Arc and Margaret of Anjou; then in The Merchant of Venice, on Jessica,
Shylock’s daughter, and Portia, the wealthy heiress of Belmont; finally, in The Tempest, on Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, and Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. As we examine England’s tendency towards insularity and the cultural, economic, religious, and linguistic influences that shaped its cosmopolitanism, these women will play a crucial role in our understanding of
England’s politics and its resulting shifts in diplomacy during the Renaissance.

There are no pre-requirements, and material will be provided when needed to fill potential gaps. You do need to read the othe history plays to join in. 

Key terms: Consciousness, Cosmopolitanism, Diplomacy, Domestic, Foreign, Geography,
History, Insularity, Nation, Representation, Women

Where: Hadley Library  
When: Mondays: 5 pm to 6:30 pm from March 4 th , 2024 to May 20 th , 2024
March: 4, 11, 18, 25
April: 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
May: 6, 13, 20
Pacing: One play a month, beginning with 1Henry VI

Modality:In-person and hybrid format

Important Details:

  • Please download the SLACK app to access reading materials and bring your laptop.
    I am happy help set up SLACK during the first week of class.
  • Extra readings will be posted on SLACK. Although not required, these materials will
    enhance our understanding of the context in which these plays were written.
  • Feel free to attend the discussions on one, two, or three plays and register
    accordingly. As constructed, the plays in this program “speak” to one another, providing
    an arc of study and allowing different facets of the topic to emerge and explore.
    However, coming to study one play will provide threads to investigate at your own pace.


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