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Engl 300

Engl 300 “Here’s Looking at You, Kid”;

Or, “For Your Eyes Only”:Shakespeare, Perspective, and Photography (Pillai)


What does it mean for us to see—to look at, look into, look upon—others and the world around us? What about when we are seen by others or the world? How do we appear in the critical lens of the other? These and similar questions often take hold of William Shakespeare’s characters, whose simultaneous gaze upon the world and into themselves is best understood as photographic. Put differently, we might say that characters in Shakespeare’s drama are photographers of sorts: they turn the lens upon themselves at the same time that they capture moments which shed light on the objects, individuals, and the larger world around them. In his comedies the photographic moment becomes that of the spectacle, when characters’ laughter (along with our own) is transfixed to emphasize laughter’s proximity to its opposite—to horror and tragedy. With a photographer’s care, Shakespeare scrutinizes the emotion that is happiness as he probes the nuances of the wisdom and/or silliness of comedy. In his tragedies the duration and moment of death (or dying) is crucial as characters ponder, prepare for, and capture the images of their own and others’ mortality. The readers and audience are also scooped up in the action of the lens; we too ponder the moment of death, the duration of dying—that of the plays’ characters but also of our own. Indeed, in the plays of Shakespeare the critical gaze or the proverbial camera bears a double function, clicking pictures at once of the world around us and of ourselves in the world.

We will study six plays of Shakespeare in the context of visual culture. Our readings of the plays will engage diverse theoretical, philosophical, psychoanalytical, and historical contexts. Specifically, we will consider multiple approaches to understanding the gaze of characters as their actions unfold in the contexts of comedy and tragedy. We will focus on particular moments (scenes) and motifs that emerge in Shakespeare’s plays, which lend themselves to photographic treatment insofar as they explore the ways in which characters capture, interpret, and manipulate their own and others’ gaze—of living and dying; desire and deviance; victory and defeat; horror and pathos; sorrow and loss; love, longing, and envy; and of belonging, alienation, and appropriation. Through our study of the complexities of the act of seeing, we will gain an understanding of the relationship of time (fleeting moments, stasis, movement, duration, eternity) and perspective (point of view, outlook, insight) as it is captured through the Shakespearean lens.

Note: This course may be taken for credit towards the Women’s and Gender Studies Minor.  Students taking the course for Women’s and Gender Studies credit will focus on women’s and gender issues by doing special course readings and writing assignments on women’s and gender studies issues. If you are interested in taking this course for credit toward the Women’s and Gender Studies Minor, please contact the course instructor in the first two weeks of class to (a) determine the appropriate readings and assignments to be completed for the course to count toward the WGS Minor and (b) complete the WGS Special Cross-List Course Contract.


Course Description (from the University Catalog):

English 300: Critical Conversations in English. (3 credit hours) (Prerequisites: ENGL 101 and 102 with a C or better and 275, 276, or 205) Course restrictions: Required for a major. A seminar designed for newly-declared English majors, this course emphasizes critical thinking, analytical writing and textual analysis as the foundations of success in the major. Texts—connected by generic, thematic or historical factors—will vary based on faculty expertise, but will be the means to introduce students to some of the research methodologies, critical “conversations” and professional factors that are central concerns in the discipline. May be repeated for credit once under a different instructor.