Major Authors, 1603-1789: Shakespeare Tragedies and Romances (WI Capstone-Eligible)

Subversive Silence and Rebellious Speech
ENGLSH 4167/4167W/7167
Section 01
Anne Myers
Course Description

Shakespeare 4167/7167: Tragedies and Romances—Subversive Silence and Rebellious Speech

One observation that students frequently make about Shakespeare’s characters is that they talk a lot. Hamlet, in fact, has an fairly involved conversation after uttering the words “I am dead” (5.2.307). Less commonly observed, however, are the many important moments in which Shakespeare’s characters refuse to speak up, wielding silence as a weapon or an instrument of rebellion. Cordelia, we will see, causes an uproar by saying “Nothing.”

These days, as we watch political candidates frantically compete for precious seconds of airtime on a debate stage, we might assume that speaking is a form of power, while being silenced is a form of defeat, marginalization and erasure. An individual’s access to speech might be determined by many social and political factors, such as gender, race, class and nationality. Shakespeare’s plays certainly depict this direct relationship between speech and power, but they also frame the connections among speech, power, silence, and rebellion in more subtle ways. What happens, for instance, when someone is forced to speak? What happens when characters won’t speak up? What happens when speech is nonsense or obscures more than it reveals? Is it possible that silence is its own form of speaking, resistance, or even power?

Plays are likely to include Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Coriolanus and The Tempest. While this theme will provide a starting point and backbone for the course, students will have the opportunity to introduce their own interests, guide discussion and design their own topics for written assignments. Written work for the course will include in-class exams and will culminate in a researched critical essay.


 Cross listed with MDV_ST 4105-02