Writing With Shakespeare

William Shakespeare didn’t go to college. If he could time-travel like Dr. Who, he would be stunned to find his words on a university syllabus. But he would not be surprised at the way we will be using those words in this class, because the study of rhetoric was essential to all education in his day. We too will focus on communication using words, with Shakespeare as a capacious model and inspiration for dialogue, self-presentation, and writing. By writing ‘with’ Shakespeare—critically, creatively, in groups, and in a variety of media—you will have ample opportunity to explore the elements and occasions that shape effective, meaningful communication. We will consider how his plays have in turn been reinterpreted across the globe: in addition to reciting famous speeches, we will analyze both text and film versions of the comedy Much Ado About Nothing and the tragedy Othello, and you will explore an online MITx module as preparation to perform dramatic scenes from what is now a ‘problem play’, The Merchant of Venice. Finally, we will look at how Shakespeare revises his stories and style in the late ‘romance’ A Winter’s Tale. In the process, you will get to ‘play’ a Shakespeare scholar, and debate the reasons for the playwright’s enduring power. Nevertheless, our aim is less to appreciate his works as an end in themselves than to draw on his remarkable drama (including its vocabulary, variety, verve, and verbal command) in order to help you improve your own writing, speaking, analytic thinking, use of resources, and understanding of media today.