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Shakespeare's Slandered Ladies

Shakespeare’s Slandered Ladies
Fran Teague, Spring 2018
THEA 4800/6800 and ENGL 4330

Throughout his career, Shakespeare writes plays in which a woman is wrongly accused of infidelity. In this course we will examine where those slandered lady plots originate, what Shakespeare does to vary the plot, and why that lot resonates with his culture—and our own.

The class will go in the direction students want to take, but we will examine why anxiety about women’s bodies keeps showing up, why Shakespeare keeps changing the story, and why the ladies are always represented innocent (even when they confess themselves guilty). In short, expect discussion about gender issues and the process of dramatic creation (by both author and performer).

The plays we will certainly study include The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado about Nothing, Othello, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale. If we have time, we may also look at a problem play like Measure for Measure or All’s Well. Since the University Theatre will present Othello in the spring, we shall attend the play together and enjoy a special talk back with folks from the production.

Students will

  • Write a 500-word response paper about 5 plays. (5 papers @ 10% each> 50% of grade).
  • Write about what happens in the spring 2018 University Theatre production as language moves from page to stage. (15% of grade)
  • Work with a small team to plan and produce a scene. (10% of grade)
  • By mid-term, you will also propose an independent project. (5% of grade)
  • Independent Research Project (20% of grade)

            Each student presents the project to the rest of the class, as well as submitting written results to the professor. Yes, you may do an essay, but if you plan to teach, perhaps you’d rather prepare a teaching portfolio of lesson plans and classroom materials. A women’s studies student might want to trace the history of what actually happened to wives accused of adultery in the 16th and 17th centuries. A theatre major might want to prepare a production background book or a production design. One could, for example, compare Paula Vogel’s Desdemona, a Play about a Handerchief to Shakespeare’s Othello. You could look at some of the many adaptations of these plays into films (O or Stage Beauty) or novels (Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time) or paintings, operas, other plays (Delacroix, Verdi, or Rodgers and Hart all come to mind).