English 311: Early Shakespeare

“Backstage Pass”


  • Lecture, Tuesday 8:30am – 10:20 am / AQ 3149
  • Tutorial 1, Tuesday, 10:30am – 12:20pm / BLU 10901 (changed!)
  • Tutorial 2, Thursday, 8:30am – 10 – 20am / AQ 5004

Office Hours:

  • Thursday 12pm – 12:50pm (changed!) / AQ 6089A
Globe circle S

and they called it “The Globe”

Shakespeare is, today, strongly associated with print, but the plays were originally written to be performed and were only later sold as books. This course will actively compare Shakespeare as a script—an instruction manual for putting on a play—to Shakespeare as visual experience—a performance to be witnessed. Each play is paired with a self-referential adaptation: a film, television show, or in one case a comic book, that depicts not just the play but some part of the process of making the play. Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love fictionalizes and mythologizes Shakespeare’s personal life as a parallel to Romeo and Juliet. Taymor’s Titus subtly present Titus Andrdonicus as a vicious game played by a cruel boy. Looking for Richard argues that Shakespeare belongs to the dramatists rather than the academics, and it tackles the problem of presenting this complex, historical play to a modern audience. Gaiman’s comic-book adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream looks behind the stage and places real faeries in the audience for Shakespeare’s most famous fairy story. Finally, Branaugh’s Henry V transforms the play’s chorus into a museum guide who leads the viewers into history. The goal in each case is to investigate the specific circumstances of production. Shakespeare lived in a chaotic time: an English civil war still fresh in the minds of her people, a break from the Catholic Church still visible in the scarred architecture, and Britain’s expanding colonial power changing how the English saw themselves. The adaptations have a variety of origins, from indie film, to comic books. Week by week, we will investigate how they re-present specific problems and address certain questions about producing Shakespeare.

The course will consist of a short paper, a presentation, and a long paper. The short paper will be six to eight pages in length. The presentation will be the basis of the long paper, which will be ten to twelve pages. There will also be a final exam in the form of an in-class essay (three hours) and a 15% participation mark for in- class discussions.

Required Texts:

  • Henry V, Oxford Word Classics (ISBN 9780199536511)
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oxford Word Classics (ISBN 9780199535866)
  • Richard III, Oxford Word Classics (ISBN 9780199535880)
  • Romeo and Juliet, Oxford Word Classics (ISBN 9780199535897)
  • Titus Andronicus, Oxford Word Classics (ISBN 9780199536108)

All titles are available through Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (use your SFU ID to log on!).

While the Oxford Shakespeare editions are not required, you must have academic editions of the plays (i.e., detailed introduction, footnotes, research included, etc.). You may find the plays hard to understand without them, and they contain valuable research material.