Intro to Shakespeare
There are many questions we can ask ourselves as we come to a course about Shakespeare. Most of us
have some familiarity with his work, or famous lines, or maybe even adaptations of his work like She’s
the Man (an adaptation of Twelfth Night), or 10 Things I hate about You (Taming of the Shrew), or “O,”
(or Othello) or even (this one most people don’t know, The Lion King (based on the story of Hamlet). So
most of us have some familiarity with Shakespeare. But we have many questions, especially if we are
going to spend a whole semester studying him.
First, perhaps most obviously, who was Shakespeare?
Why does Shakespeare matter?
And I will suggest there is one even more perhaps more importantly, you
need to ask yourself. This is probably the most important question you’ll ask all semester: why does
Shakespeare actually matter
During the course of this semester, I hope to disabuse you of many commonly held prejudices you might
have encountered with some of your previous high school experiences with Shakespeare. For example:
Shakespeare is boring. Shakespeare is inaccessible. Shakespeare is difficult. Shakespeare is irrelevant.
Shakespeare has nothing to do with me. You may have previously read or seen Shakespeare and you
think that his work is boring. Well, if you feel this way at the start, I suggest that you find another
elective. I don’t know why you would choose to take an elective course if you think the material is
actually boring. Some people think Shakespeare is like Broccoli. You need to eat him because he’s good
to you. I don’t belong to this camp of cultural elite. So, you may be taking this course to take your
broccoli. I would dissuade you from taking this course if this is what you believe. Some people take a
Shakespeare class because he’s the foundation of the canon. Important people seem to think that
Shakespeare is important, so I guess I’ll take this class. Although this may be a noble intention, I don’t
think even this is a good reason to take the course. As far as being inaccessible and difficult, I agree the
language may seem that way at first, but as with anything, practice and a little effort will make it seem
much easier for you as we go through the semester. Of course, if you don’t do the reading, if you don’t
read the gloss notes, if you don’t struggle a little with the language, and ask questions when you are
confused, you may leave this course the way you entered it. Feeling hopeless confused. So, I encourage
you to work at it. Ask questions, believe in yourself, and remember: nothing is impossible. You can do
There is only one reason why I think that you should take this course: It is because Shakespeare matters
During the course of this semester, I will never ask you “Why does Shakespeare matter?” but
hopefully this last question is the one that you will focus on all semester. Why does Shakespeare’s is
literary career and output matter to me?
And not in some grandiose or universal meaning kind of way,