ENG 310-01 - Studies in Shakespeare (Spring)
Precolonialism: Shakespeare’s Global Renaissance, 1590-1623. This course will analyze a prehistory of colonialism in Shakespeare’s England. Our point of departure will be Christopher Hill’s famous description of England’s rise: “The England of 1603 was a second-class power; the Great Britain of 1714 was the greatest world power. Under James and Charles English colonisation of America was just beginning; under Anne England held a large empire in America, Asia, and Africa, and colonial questions were decisive when policy was formulated.” In this course, we will begin to map out how England’s place on the world stage began to change in Shakespeare’s time. Queen Elizabeth granted a Royal Charter founding the East India Company in 1600, and dispatched her first diplomatic emissaries to Asia from 1596-1602, during the peak of Shakespeare’s career. Throughout the 1590’s, Shakespeare and a generation of poets and playwrights began to reposition England on a broader global stage, rejecting the earlier Renaissance understanding of England as a cultural backwater because of its geographical isolation. This course will therefore study how Shakespeare participated in an effort to imagine England’s relation to the “Orient” from 1590-1623 by reading his drama, the travel writing of his contemporaries, and diplomatic communiqués written during the first decades of English global expansion. The class will develop an understanding of how the first Renaissance literary representations of the “East” defined the terms of England’s policies during its subsequent century of colonialist expansion. The course will conclude with an analysis of how a fundamental shift occurred in the seventeenth century, transforming the English imagination of Asia from a discourse of trade imbalances, to one of racial otherness that we inherit today.
A note on method: this course will use close reading in conjunction with computational methods to test experimental hypotheses against a large corpus of Renaissance texts (up to 25,000 texts). We will think about why different, or analogous, arguments emerge from the different methods. Students without the prerequisites may enroll in the class with the permission of the instructor.
Prerequisite: ENG 121 . ENG 223 and ENG 224 are strongly recommended.