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Political Science 119
Shakespeare and Politics
Winter 2003


Course Description

This course explores moral and political themes in five plays by William Shakespeare: The First Part of Henry IV; Henry V; Richard III; King Lear; Hamlet.  We will be particularly interested in three themes: the construction of power and authority, the demands of politics, and the perils of corruption.

This is a seminar; participants should be prepared to read intensively and argue constructively.



1.       Regular attendance of and participation in seminar.  You will be evaluated on the basis of your preparedness and willingness to participate, and not on how many “right” answers you provide.  (40% of grade)

2.       A five-page (1,500 word) paper on Henry V, due 27 January.  Topics and guidelines will be distributed on 13 January.  In preparation for this paper, each student will sign up for a 15-minute conference the week of 20 January.  (25% of grade)

3.       A five-page (1,500 word) paper on King Lear, due 24 February.  Topics will be distributed 10 February.  In preparation for this paper, each student will sign up for a 15-minute conference the week of 17 February.  (35% of grade)


Course Materials

The following books are available at the University Bookstore:

The First Part of King Henry IV (Pelican)

The Life of Henry V (Folger)

The Tragedy of Richard III (Folger)

Tragedy of King Lear (Folger)

The Tragedy of Hamlet (Folger)

Excellent editions of these plays are also available from Oxford and Cambridge.  All other assigned readings are included in an electronic course reader, to be distributed on CD-ROM the first day of class.  This disk also includes electronic copies of the plays, as well as maps and a variety of handouts.  Videotapes will be placed on reserve at the film and video library in SSH.


Additional Information

1.       My office is in SSB 373. My phone number is 534-2951; my email address is ahouston@ucsd.edu. My office hours for Winter 2003 are on Mondays 2:00 – 3:00.  I am also available by appointment.

2.       There are many provocative and engaging books on Shakespeare and on early-modern political thought.  If you would like suggestions for further readings, please do not hesitate to ask.


Reading Assignments and Course Schedule

1. Introduction (6 January)

Monty Python, “Dennis the Peasant,” Holy Grail (video)

Branagh, “St. Crispin’s Day Speech,” Henry V (video)

Schama, “History of Britain” (video)


2. Education (13 January)

Shakespeare, The First Part of Henry IV

Adamson, “The Aristocracy and their Mental World”

Walter, “The Commons and their Mental worlds”

Guy, “Tudor Monarchy and Political Culture”

Gurr “The Theatre and Society”


[individual conferences: week of 20 January]


3. Glory (27 January)

Shakespeare, The Life of Henry V

Neale, Queen Elizabeth I

Aske, Elizabetha Triumphans

Branagh, Henry V (video - reserve)


4. Corruption (3 February)

Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI, 3.3.124-95

Machiavelli, The Prince chs. 15-19, 25

Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Richard III


5. Disobedience (10, 24 February)

Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Lear

“An Homily against Disobedience and Wylful Rebellion”

Tillyard, Elizabethan World Picture

Brigden, “The Theatre of God’s Judgments”

Herzog, “Masterless Men”


[individual conferences: week of 17 February]


6. Conscience (3, 10 March)

Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet

Bacon, “Revenge”

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Alan Craig Houston  /  Department of Political Science  /  Last Modified 16 December 2003