Monday, September 21, 2015

Thoughts on Shakespeare's Sonnets and Selfhood

As I read through our selection of sonnets, two basic questions emerge as central to our critical task. They are as follows:

(1) What does the poetic treatment of love and desire in the 16th/17th century have to tell us about conceptions of selfhood in that period?

(2) In what ways does Shakespeare interrogate or struggle with those conceptions of selfhood?

The first question is methodological and theoretical. It has to do with poetry's status as intellectual-historical evidence. What can this kind of source tell us about selfhood that other sources can't? The second question has to do with an individual writer's craft. To get a better sense of this, you may (if you have time) choose to look at some other sonnets written by other English Renaissance poets for comparison. A couple useful ones are Edmund Spenser's sonnet 75 (from the Amoretti, 1594) and Philip Sidney's sonnet 1 (from Astrohpil and Stella, 1591).

Monday, September 14, 2015

Historical Contexts: What is a Self?

Top to bottom: image from René Descartes, Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology (Leiden, 1637); frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651), detail from Leviathan frontispiece; frontispiece and two images from Andreas Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543).


Welcome, everyone, to "Shakespeare and Selfhood," an M.A. seminar at the University of Lausanne. I look forward to working with you over the next several months. Below is a basic course description. (You can download a full prospectus and class schedule from Moodle.) This blog will be used to post discussion questions, assignment information, and other resources, so please bookmark it and check it regularly. Thanks!

Shakespeare and Selfhood
Autumn 2015
Anthropole 4129
Tuesday, 10:15­-11:45
Prof. Kevin Curran
Office: Anth 5123
Consultation: Tuesdays, 1:00-3:00 PM

What is a self? Are we minds that just happen to perceive a body and physical surroundings, or are we bodies whose sensory experience of material reality creates something that feels like an independent mental world? Are we free agents, or are our actions determined by our environment? And if we can figure out who we are, does that make it easier to know how we should live? For example, is there a certain system of governance (monarchy, democracy, socialism) that is more in sync with human nature than others? There have been many attempts to answer these questions in philosophy, politics, science, law, and religion. The premise of this course, a premise shared by many readers and theatergoers from the eighteenth century onwards, is that Shakespeare, too, has something to tell us about selfhood. Focusing on a selection of plays, this course will explore the relationship between Shakespearean drama and the idea of selfhood from two perspectives: (1) Historical: Shakespeare wrote his plays during what is typically taken to be a watershed period in the history of selfhood, a period during which some have argued the modern self—closed, autonomous, interiorized, uniquely individual—begins to emerge. (2) Theatrical: the social and material contexts in which Shakespeare’s plays were performed and the gestural and rhetorical practices used to form character on stage contribute to specific ways of understanding the self.