Shakespeare—ENGL 3357
Dr. Jonathan Alexander
856-222-9311 x1123
Revised, Spring 2013

NOTE ON MATERIALS: The following texts have been ordered for this class in inexpensive paperback versions (though students are not required to purchase these texts if they can acquire any credible version of the plays, either individually or anthologized). PLAYS BEING READ ARE IN CAPS:


1. Four Great Tragedies, Hamlet; Macbeth; KING LEAR; OTHELLO, Signet Classic | 592 pages | 01 Jun 1998, 9780451527295


2. Four Great Comedies, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Twelfth Night; THE TEMPEST, Signet Classic | 432 pages | 01 Sep 1998, 9780451527318


3. HENRY V, Signet Classic | 320 pages | 01 Aug 1998, 9780451526908


4. ROMEO AND JULIET, Signet Classic | 304 pages | 01 May 1998, 9780451526861


5. THE SONNETS, Signet Classic | 272 pages | 01 Mar 1999, 9780451527271



COURSE OVERVIEW: This three-credit literature course is designed to introduce students to the life, plays and poetry of William Shakespeare. The course will commence with a brief history of Shakespeare’s life, the Renaissance style of the 16th and 17th Centuries, the environment within which he produced his works, and the major qualities of his writing. Students will formulate theories as to why the plays seem timeless and immensely readable. Time permitting, film adaptations of selected plays will be shown to allow for comparative evaluation. Students will write essays based on class notes and personal insight and lead the class in discussion for selected works of literature. The course is designed to be a seminar-style, with the balance of the discussion information introduced by students and instructor alike.




Attendance: If the student is to profit from any course, he or she must attend class on a consistent basis.

Students must attend all classes for the full duration of each session. Should you need to miss a class for observance of religious holidays, jury duty, military duty, bereavement, or illness, you must notify the instructor by telephone or e-mail prior to or within 24 hours after the class. Without such communication, students forfeit the right to make up missed work. If such communication is made, students will be permitted to make up missed work at the beginning of the following class meeting. It is, therefore, the student’s responsibility to read the syllabus and be prepared for current as well as missed assignments.

Entering class late or leaving class early (without prior authorization) is considered disrespectful and will not be tolerated.


Academic Etiquette: Students will respect themselves, their peers and their instructors by considering the following:

Cell phones must be kept on silent. No calls are to be made or received during class. If you are expecting an important call during the class meeting time, notify me prior to class and quietly excuse yourself if the call is received. No text-messaging or game-playing will be tolerated.

Students who wish to use the restrooms may do so by quietly leaving and re-entering the room. If a student believes he or she will require an absence of more than a few minutes, it is his responsibility to notify me accordingly.


Communication: Many means of communication are available to the student including telephone, e-mail and mailbox.

If you leave a message on my office voice-mail (x1123), please remember to speak clearly and provide your name, course information, and phone number if you request a return call.

If you contact me via e-mail, always include your FULL NAME AND CLASS SECTION in the subject line. Too often students forget to sign e-mail or have e-mail addresses without obvious identifiers. If you do not include your name and class in the subject line, I will not open the message.

Students who send me e-mail and do not receive a reply of any kind within 48 hours should assume it was never received. Such e-mails should be resent. I do not mind receiving redundant messages if you are unsure whether your message was transmitted (though I may only reply to one). If your message doesn’t present itself as urgent, I may reply quickly and briefly and ask to get back to you before long.

Students who send e-mails containing attachments must save these documents with one of the following extensions: DOC, DOCX, TXT,  or RTF. Please, no MAC “pages” files, ODT or WPS files. If the previous extensions are not available to you, copy and paste the text of your assignment into the e-mail message itself.


Class Assignments:

All work written and submitted should utilize standard rules of grammar, sentence organization, paragraph organization, and diction.

All formal papers are to be typed, titled, double spaced, stapled, and carefully proofread.

All assignments are due on the date specified on the syllabus without exception. Assignments which are not submitted during the class session they are due will be penalized 15% for each subsequent day they are late.

If a student presents reasonable justification for an absence, such an absence does not allow for more time to complete assignments. When a student is absent the day an assignment is due, he or she must submit the assignment as an attachment via e-mail on or before the date it is due.

Since students are provided with all assignments and deadlines on the first day of the semester, excuses such as “crashed computers,” “misplaced data,” “misplaced disks,” or “empty printer ink cartridges” will not be accepted. All computer work should be saved twice (hard drive and floppy/flash).


Plagiarism will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Be aware that plagiarism includes (but is not limited to) copying someone else’s words without crediting the source; paraphrasing someone else’s words without crediting the source; using someone else’s ideas without crediting the source (even if rephrased in your own words); using facts not universally known which are obtained from a source without crediting the source; asking someone else to write your paper, either in whole or in part; or obtaining a paper or portion thereof by any means and submitting it as an original document. The penalty for plagiarism is failure of the assignment and potentially failure of the course (at the instructor’s discretion), and it may result in suspension or expulsion from the College (at the discretion of the Student Affairs Committee). Please refer to the FDU Academic Integrity Policy <<>> for additional information regarding University regulations and the handling of plagiarism.


Brief List of Assignments

  • Quizzes: Weekly content quizzes will be given on the plays assigned.
  • Poetic Recitation: Students will select one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, commit it to memory, and recite it for the class. The act of memorization serves the students skills of reading lines carefully and making judgments about how particular passages can be interpreted and therefore evaluated. (HANDOUT)
  • Film Essay: Students will submit a 1000-word analytical essay comparing two of the films listed below. Students who plan to view the films in small groups may borrow my personal copies; be reminded, however, that this paper is not a group project.

Option 1. Henry V: Compare Kenneth Branagh (1989) with Lawrence Olivier (1944).
Option 2. Romeo and Juliet: Compare Baz Luhrman (1996, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) with Franco Zeffirelli (1968, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey).
Option 3. Othello: Compare Oliver Parker (1995, Lawrence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh) with Orson Welles (1952).

(Let me know if you wish to consider alternative film comparisons)

  • Literary Journals: Students will be expected to maintain response journals as they read the plays. It is suggested that after each scene is read, students should write for five minutes about the play’s progress and the relevance of new information. As well, students must complete the questions included on the syllabus for each play prior to that day’s class meeting. Likewise, students are expected to e-mail responses to questions scheduled for the “off” days.

LIST OF ASSIGNMENTS: The work in this course will include the following:


Due Date

Point Value

Quiz One (Biography and Drama)

Session 3


Quiz Two (Romeo and Juliet)

Session 3


Quiz Three (Henry V)

Session 5


Poetic Recitation

Session 9 or 11


Quiz Four (Tempest)

Session 9


Quiz Five (Taming of the Shrew)

Session 11


Quiz Six (Othello)

Session 13


Quiz Seven (King Lear)

Session 14


Film Essay

Session 14


Literary Journal







Grades will be based on the following equivalents:

Points Earned

Final Grade

Points Earned

Final Grade




















SESSION 1: Tues, Jan 29
Course Introduction; Assignment Procedures
Selections for Student Teaching and Class Contributions
Lecture: The Life of William Shakespeare, Renaissance England, Drama and the Theatre


SESSION 2: Thurs, Jan 31
Lecture: The Life of William Shakespeare, Renaissance England, Drama and the Theatre


SESSION 3: Tues, Feb 5

►Quiz One, Biography and Drama Lecture

►Quiz Two, Romeo and Juliet

1. If the purpose of the Chorus is to suggest a moral that can be inferred from a play, what does this Chorus say the play will teach us?

2. Does knowing the ending of the play (and the two teenagers’ demise) add to or diminish the tragedy from your perspective?

3. What do Mercutio and Romeo have in common?  How are they dissimilar?

4. What sense of the Capulet family do you get from their masquerade ball? From Lord Capulet’s reaction to Tybalt upon Romeo’s arrival?

5. In the balcony scene (2.1), which of the young lovers pushes for a commitment? Who sets conditions? What is each of the lovers worrying about?


SESSION 4: Thurs, Feb 7 NO CLASS, E-MAILED RESPONSE by Sunday evening:

6. What does the Friar tell us about the good and evil within every living thing? What does he mean by saying that “they stumble who run fast”? How is this applicable in and out of the play?

7. From Romeo’s perspective, which is a worse mistake: not fighting Tybalt, or fighting him? Explain.

8. What impact do the lovers’ deaths have on their parents?  Will this society change? Do they know why they were fighting in the first place?

9. Does the Chorus’s “moral” do justice to the tragedy?  Is drawing a moral lesson the key to your response to this play?

10. With the opening note of the kids’ suicides notwithstanding, were you surprised by the tragedy at all? What does the play do to create suspense even though we know the ending?


SESSION 5: Tues, Feb 12

Quiz Three, Henry V
Why does the Prologue call attention to the “wooden O”? What does this have to do with King Henry’s exploits on the battlefield and the actions that take place on the stage?

2. Why are the tennis balls so insulting to Henry? How might the French be underestimating the young king?

3. What qualities does Henry reveal in exposing the traitors? How does he exhibit a range of emotions in this scene?

4. Why does the playwright represent Henry’s army as including men from England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland?

5. How are the ethics of war illustrated in this play? How is war both glorified and vilified?


SESSION 6: Thurs, Feb 14 NO CLASS, E-MAILED RESPONSE by Sunday evening:

6. Considering the two key battle speeches (at Harfleur and Agincourt), identify the most and least admirable qualities in both. Why does Henry circulate in disguise the evening before Agincourt? What does he learn or tell us about being a king, about being human?

7. How do Henry and William disagree about a king’s responsibilities for his subject?

8. What does the final death toll at Agincourt reveal about the valuation of soldiers’ lives?

9. What do you consider the best and worst qualities of Henry’s kingship?  Is he aware of the contradictions, and if so, how might he justify them to himself?

10. Considering the wooing of Henry and Katherine in the final scene, why is communication across languages a theme relevant to this play?


SESSION 7: Tues, Feb 19
Selection of Sonnets (including student handouts)

SESSION 8: Thurs, Feb 21 NO-CLASS, no assignment


SESSION 9: Tues, Feb 26
Poetic Recitations—Group One:
Quiz Four, The Tempest
1. How do the different characters react to the crisis of the “tempest” (or storm) of the play’s title?

2. Why is Ariel characterized as being grateful to Prospero? Is this gratitude sincere or spiteful?

3. What are the parallels between the Prospero storyline and the storyline of Caliban and Sycorax?

4. What is Caliban’s attitude towards Prospero’s control of the island? How does hypocrisy play into a situation where freedom and colonization are both present?

5. How is Prospero’s treatment of Ferdinand similar to and different from Prospero’s treatment of Caliban? What is the play’s attitude toward uncontrolled sexual desire on the one hand and unregulated political ambition on the other?
6. What kind of society would Gonzalo like to establish on the desert island? What is realistic or unrealistic about his ideas? What is the reaction of his companions?

7. What are Prospero’s plans for his practice of magic when his current plan is brought to completion? Do you think he means what he says?

8. What role does forgiveness play in the final scenes? Who is truly penitent? Who is sarcastic? Who remains unregretful?

9. Which characters display characteristics of true civility? Which display only primitive behavior? Which display both?

10. What role do Trinculo and Stephano play in this drama?


SESSION 10: Thurs, Feb 28 NO CLASS, E-MAILED RESPONSE by Sunday evening:

Quiz Five, Taming of the Shrew
Considering that the Induction portrays role-playing (and then, curiously, is never revisited), how does such role-playing address issues of gender and class? What effects might these representations have on the play?

2. Where else are roles being played which affect the moral of the drama?

3. How are Bianca and Katherine different? How are they similar? How might Bianca be seen as more contemptible in some ways than her sister?

4. What makes Katherine rather than Bianca the shrew (by public opinion)?

5. Does Petruchio ever “tame” Kate? How or why not?

6. How is Petruchio’s masculinity represented (considering his treatment of servants, Kate, etc.)?

7. Where might you place the turning point of the play?

8. Considering Kate’s final speech, is she sincere or ironic? Is she to be seen as submissive or controlling? Should we take Kate at her word or should we imagine a gap between what she says and what she means? 


SESSION 11: Tues, Mar 5

Poetic Recitations—Group Two:
Quiz Six, Othello
1. How would you characterize the difference between the way Othello and Iago talk, both in their subject matter and their style?

2. How would you justify Iago’s intentions to destroy each of the following characters: Othello, Cassio, Brabantio, Desdemona, Roderigo, Emilia?

3. What is the principal strategy that Iago uses to convince Othello that his wife has betrayed him with Cassio?

4. Why was Othello apparently so trusting of Iago?

5. What is the primary thing Othello has lost through Desdemona’s supposed betrayal?

6. Why doesn’t Desdemona react more strongly when Othello accuses her of infidelity?

7. Why doesn’t Othello ever actually ask her if she has been unfaithful?

8. What is Othello’s insight of himself during his final speech?


SESSION 12: Thurs, Mar 7

Quiz Seven, King Lear
Do you believe Lear made a mistake by giving away his kingdom? How does the play seem to answer this question?

2. What does Cordelia mean when she says she loves her father according to her “bond”?

3. Considering the idea of service as a fundamental element of the play, what does authority have to do with service?

4. How is the “storm” important both literally and figuratively? How might this be similar to or different from the storm in “The Tempest”?

5. What is significant about sight and blindness (both literal and figurative)?

6. Do the meeting and reconciliation of Lear and Cordelia bring you a sense of resolution?

7. In what way does Edgar’s final speech serve as a fitting end to the play? In what ways is it not appropriate?

8. How are the state and the family exhibited analogously in this play?

9. How might the main plot of Lear-Cordelia be interpreted differently if the subplot of Gloucester-Edmund-Edgar was removed?

10. What role is played by the Fool? Do you consider his presence crucial to Lear’s actions? How do you explain his curious disappearance?

Distribution of Take-home Exam Three


Film Essay due by March 12th


A.  Romeo and Juliet


Pure Love

Impetuousness / Impatience

Life / Death

Honor / Integrity



B.  Henry V

Loyalty / Treason

Common Man




Chorus / Speeches

C. The Tempest




Servitude / Mastery

Civilized / Primitive


Order / Chaos



Illusion / Reality 









D. Taming of the Shrew

Economy of Marriage

Role of Women

Love / Lust

Servitude / Mastery


Money / Greed


Free Will


E.  Othello

Pride / Honor











F. King Lear





Sanity / Madness









































































Suggestions and Tips for Poetic Recitation


1. Read the poem to yourself at least five times to try to get a feeling for the rhythm. Since no two people will read a poem alike, take the time to recite it slowly and find out the most comfortable places to breathe. Remember, you don’t have to pause at the end of every line; instead, pause where it feels natural. Good reciters use pauses, emphases, and other nuances to show their understanding of a poem. Make sure you look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.


TIP: It’s helpful to read through the poem right before you go to sleep. Our brains tend to remember whatever the last thing is that we read or hear at night, so make sure your poem is the last thought you have as you drift into sleep.


2. Now that you have a feel for the poem and have practice saying it out loud, take a break. Put it away for a little while. Go for a walk and see how much of the poem’s imagery you can remember. Don’t be surprised if only a few words or phrases float into your mind instead of entire lines, and don’t worry if you can’t remember anything.


TIP: Avoid setting expectations or deadlines for memorizing. These tend to frustrate the learner and impede the process.


3. Approach the poem as a challenge to be mastered, not as work. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to remember. Break the poem into parts. Consider that the poem is made up of complete thoughts (sometimes actual punctuated sentences, and sometimes sentence fragments). Don’t be concerned with where a line ends; instead, focus on where a thought ends. If there aren’t stanza breaks, break the poem up yourself every five or six lines. It will be much easier to memorize small pieces instead of the whole poem at once.


TIP: Studies show that you remember 30% more when you’re standing up. When trying to memorize a poem, recite it standing up.


4. Read the first stanza (or complete thought). Close your eyes and see how much you remember. Open your eyes and see how well you did. Try imagining pictures in your mind to go along with the poem. Visuals are very good reminders as you recite a poem. Let each complete thought have an image, which connects to the following thought and image. If you can’t remember the words, seeing the picture in your head may spark the words.


TIP: Your brain will recall better if you use all your senses. Try recopying the lines of poetry using different color ink.


5. Repeat this process until you can recite aloud the entire first stanza (or first complete thought). Don’t move on to the second until you are confident with the first.


TIP: If you must be prompted constantly, if you recite so quickly that the words blur into each other, or if you add, delete, move or change words, you will not receive much credit. Be precise.


6. Repeat the process for the second thought or stanza, just concentrating on it alone. Try covering the remaining parts of the poem with an index card so your eyes don’t range down the page and become distracted. Once you can say the second stanza aloud, recite the first and second together. No matter how far into the poem you get, always go back to the beginning when practicing.


TIP: Take small bites and don’t push yourself. If you’re tired or frustrated, rest your mind and body for a few moments. Of all tasks we have, memorization is not something that succeeds when we feel stress.


7. Repeat until you have the poem completely memorized.


TIP: Don’t limit yourself with declarations of inability. Don’t chastise or threaten yourself. Telling yourself that you’re incapable of the task will undermine the process. Negativity is counterproductive.


8. Recite the poem out loud.  Imagine standing in front of your class smiling and reciting and getting all the words correct. Recite the poem for family and friends. Although reciting the poem in the car or in the shower will be effective, live practice will feel different from when it’s just you. It may be helpful to concentrate on a spot on the wall behind your audience. Choose a clock or a window or a crack in the wall and recite your poem to it; if you look people in the eye you may get nervous or giggly and lose your concentration.


TIP: The best defense against anxiety or nervousness is preparation.


9. On the day of the recitation, before it’s your turn, take a last glimpse over the poem and cement it in your mind. If you know it, you know it.


TIP: Make sure you are well rested for your day’s recitation.


10. Have fun, and don’t forget to smile.

An Introduction to Elizabethan Drama


Definition of Drama











Limitations of the Playwright







Dramatic Conventions










Aristotle on Tragedy














 Aristotle’s Tragic Archetype



















William Shakespeare


















First Play Written



First play Performed



Longest play



Shortest play



Last Play Written



The “Lost” Play