Shakespeare and Selfhood
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.