ENGL 225 A: Shakespeare

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
CMU 326
William Streitberger

Syllabus Description:

English 225a:  Shakespeare                                                                        W.R. Streitberger

Spring 2020                                                                                               streitwr@UW.edu    


Our ordinary procedure will be to meet every Tu and Th at 11:30 in ZOOM.  On Tuesday morning, 31 March, I will send you by email a URL that you can click to join the meeting. (You may or may not have to log into ZOOM-- washington.zoom.us).  We will also use email to communicate and to submit work. You must check your email every 24 hours during the quarter. All written assignments and quizzes will be submitted to me by email as WORD attachments. No other kind of attachments please.


Our “fail safe” procedure: Online courses require internet access. What if my/your internet goes down? THE plan is as follows: I have sent you the syllabus for the entire quarter listing the requirements, the schedule, and study questions for each hour of class time. You are to follow this schedule. Do the reading, answer the questions for each class period, chose one for each hour and make notes so that you could write an essay on it. You will then submit this material to me when we meet online again.



The UW Bookstore has my order for The Norton Shakespeare, Essential Plays/Sonnets 3rd ed., but you may not be able to go out to purchase it. So, if you own a “complete” works of Shakespeare you may use that if it has line numbers, footnotes, and introductions.

If you do not have an edition you may purchase one online. BEWARE.  There are many rip-off editions of Shakespeare out there. Purchase one of the following texts online--no others:

The Norton Shakespeare, Essential Plays 3rd ed. sells online used for about $60-80

The Complete Arden sells for about $2-90 used

The Complete Pelican sells for about $3-15 used

The Riverside 1st and 2nd editions sell for about $12-40 used

The Complete Works ed. Bevington (published by Pearson—4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th editions) sell from about $4-80 used


When you search Amazon.com books, use this term: “complete works of Shakespeare”. Then put in “Arden” or “Pelican’ or whatever edition you are interested in.


While waiting for your text to arrive you may use online editions such as




IMPORTANT. During our class sessions you must have your text open in front of you so that you can follow along in the discussions and reading. If you do not, you will not do well either on the essays or the quizzes.


The Course. This is a 200 level course in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. Early in his career Shakespeare was primarily a writer of poetry, comedies, and histories; in his later career he primarily wrote tragedies and tragicomedies. We will be concerned with close reading and discussion of works written throughout his career: A selection of the Sonnets, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and The Tempest. Our focus will be both on the artistry in Shakespeare’s texts—the use of language and poetry, the ideas of dramatic construction, the understanding of genre, the conception of gender, the idea of theater, the impact of education on choice and treatment of subjects, the history of the texts, and criticism of his works—and on film adaptations.

Requirements: I have here provided you with reading assignments and study questions for each hour of our class sessions. Your job is to give some purposeful thought to them before class time. Come to our sessions fully prepared to engage these topics. We will go over the questions in our class sessions.

You will write three 2-3 pp. essays over the course of the quarter (50% of the course grade). Essay 1: use any of the prompts listed in the Syllabus for 16 April. Essay 2: use any of prompts listed for 23 April. Focus your essay on how the prompt you choose was interpreted in Trevor Nunn’s adaptation. Essay 3: use any of the prompts listed for 14 May. Focus your essay on how the prompt you chose was interpreted in the Peter Brook version of the play.

There are two timed quizzes (50% of the course grade) consisting of multiple choice and short answer or short essay questions that test your understanding of how to discuss passages from Shakespeare’s works, the material presented in lectures, and questions for class discussion. These quizzes will require careful and thorough preparation. I advise you to take notes in our class sessions to help you study for them.


Week 1.

31 Mar. Introduction.

2 Apr. In your search engine (Google, Firefox, etc.) search “Shakespeare in the Bush”. Read this article by Laura Bohannan. Also Read Shakespeare’s Sonnets 1-20, 30, 40, 64, 73, 97, 116.


Week 2.

7 Apr. First hour: Read Sonnets 127, 129, 130, 135, 138, 141, 143, 144, 147, 151.

Second Hour: Read A Midsummer Night’s Dream

9 Apr. A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Week 3.

14 Apr. Read Much Ado About Nothing

16 Apr. Much Ado About Nothing   


Week 4.

21 Apr.  Read Twelfth Night.  ESSAY 1 due

23 Apr.  Twelfth Night on film


Week 5

28 Apr. Twelfth Night on film  

30 Apr. Twelfth Night conclusion

Week 6

5 May Quiz 1

7 May Read Hamlet


Week 7

12 May Hamlet . ESSAY 2 due

14 May Hamlet on film


Week 8

19 May Hamlet on film

21 May Hamlet conclusion


Week 9

26 May Read The Tempest. ESSAY 3 due

28 May The Tempest on film


Week 10

2 June The Tempest conclusion

4 June Quiz 2



Essay/Discussion Questions. You will need to quote specific lines to support your argument.


2 Apr Sonnets

(First Hour) 1. Before she left Oxford what was Laura’s view of human nature? As a result what did she think about the “general plot and motivation of [Shakespeare’s] the greater tragedies”? What did her friend in Oxford think? In what ways did Laura’s view change after she told the story of Hamlet to the Tiv elders? How similar do you think our culture in 21st Century America is to Shakespeare’s culture in the late 16th--early 17th century England?

  1. Francis Petrarch and the sonnet tradition.

 (Second Hour) 1. How many different reasons are given to the young man to produce a

child in sonnets 2, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17?

  1. How does the poet in sonnets 1-18, 64, 73, and 116 deal with the effects of time on


  1. What do these poems suggest about the range of emotions in relationships between men? What about in the relationships between men and women?


7 Apr Dark Lady Sonnets, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(First hour) 1. What contradictions do you find in these sonnets about the lady’s complexion (127 and 130 vs. 141, 147)? About their sexual relationship (29 vs 35)?

  1. How much in control of the relationship is the poet in sonnets 144, 151, and 152?
  2. What do these poems suggest about the range of emotions a man can experience in a relationship with a woman?

Why might Shakespeare have written these poems?

(Second Hour) 1. What is the cause of the natural disasters in the play (2.1.81-117)?

  1. What is the origin of the love juice? What is it exactly? What does it symbolize? What effect does it have on the characters? How does it affect the relationship between lovers? Between friends?
  2. Describe what is comic about Bottom’s character. What stylistic features distinguish him and his friends from the other characters in the play?


9 Apr A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(First hour) 1. What kind of relationship did Titania have with the mother of the changeling boy (2.1.122-137)? What kind of life do you imagine that Hippolyta lived before her engagement to marry Theseus? What kind of relationship did Helena and Hermia have as children (3.2.192-219)?

  1. What were Titania and Bottom doing all night in her bower? How does Titania react to

it afterwards? How does Bottom? 

  1. 3. Compare Theseus’s explanation of the experiences in the wood (5.1.2-22) to Bottom’s (4.1.199-217).

(Second Hour) 1.Compare the effect of the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe by Bottom and friends to the play as a whole. What happens during the course of the play? What happens during the course of the performance?   

  1. Why does Puck sweep?
  2. What do the fairies bless at the end of the play?


14 April Much Ado About Nothing

(First hour) 1. What reasons does Beatrice give for not wanting to marry? What about Benedick? How valid are their reservations and concerns?

  1. How does the interchange between Beatrice and Benedick in 1.1.108-140 relate to what happens in the ball in 2.1? What is the most striking image Benedick uses to convey his feelings about Beatrice in this speech?

(Second hour) 1. How does Benedick react to the practical joke that convinces him that Beatrice is in love with him (  How does Beatrice (3.1.107ff)?

  1. What is amusing about Dogberry, Seacole, and the rest of the watch? Make comparisons to Bottom and his friends. Can you come to some conclusions about Shakespeare’s ideas for comic characters in his early plays?
  2. ‘In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.’ How often did you find references to the yoke and to horns? What do they allude to? What is the attitude of men in general toward women and marriage? Can this be connected to Borachio’s plot?


16 April

(First hour) 1. What motive does Benedick have to side with Beatrice against his friend,

Claudio, in 4.1.255-335? How shocked are you by this scene?

  1. There is no natural space for the characters to retreat into and experience a

transformation in this play as there was in MND. Do you think that Hero’s ‘death’ and

resurrection provide an emotional or psychological transformation in the action?

 (Second hour) 1.Are you disappointed in Benedick’s and Beatrice’s declarations that

they love one another ‘no more than reason’?

  1. What does Benedick mean by his comment to the Prince at the end of the play

about a husband’s staff being tipped with horn?


21 Apr Twelfth Night

(First hour) 1. In what ways are Olivia’s and Orsino’s attitudes alike? What is comic about them? In what way is Viola’s different from them?

2.What kind of character is Sir Toby? What does he want to do? What is amusing about him? What is not so amusing?

  1. In what way is Sir Andrew a different kind of comic character from the ones we have seen so far?

(Second hour) 1. How does Feste’s first encounter with Olivia in 1.5.31-69 set him off as a different kind of comic character than those in the earlier plays we have read?

  1. Feste’s songs almost always carry more emotional weight than their entertainment value requires. How does this work in relation to his song ‘O Mistress Mine’ (2.3)?

3.Compare Feste to the earlier comic characters we have seen--Bottom and Dogberry. How has Shakespeare’s idea of comedy changed?


23 Apr

(First hour) 1. How are fantasy narratives used (2.4.105-9 ‘My father had a daughter,’ 1.5.263-71 ‘Make me a willow cabin at your gate’) to create a sense of Viola’s interiority?

2.Describe the comedy of 2.5. How does this overhearing scene go beyond what Shakespeare has done in Much Ado?

  1. Describe the comedy and pathos of Malvolio’s and Viola’s experience in 3.4.. To what extent are they funny? To what extent disturbing?

(Second hour) 1. Wisdom and Folly are reversed in 4.2 To what extent do comedy, pathos, and maliciousness interpenetrate in this scene? To what effect?

  1. Follow the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian. How connected to the homoeroticism of the play? To what effect?
  2. How satisfied are you with the resolution? Does it seem that the play pushes the boundary of comedy? How?


7 May Hamlet

(First hour) 1. How does Hamlet describe his ‘interiority’ in 1.2.76-86?

  1. Pay careful attention to the imagery of the first soliloquy in 1.2. What is at the root of Hamlet’s anguish here? How would you describe his mental state after reading this passage?
  2. How would you describe Hamlet’s character—his sense of humor, his behavior, the state of his mental health?

(Second hour) 1. Pay careful attention to the imagery in the ghost’s description of his death in 1.5. Is it significant that it takes place in an orchard? With poison? What happens to the king’s body?  By the end of act 1 how certain is it that the king was actually murdered?

  1. In 2.163-69 Polonius explains how he goes about discovering ‘directions.’ Give examples of instances in the play in which other characters use ‘indirections’ to find directions.

3.. Characterize Hamlet’s relationship with R &G. Do you think they understand his speech in 2.2.296-311?


12 May

(First hour) 1. In 2.2 Shakespeare begins to make many references to drama and theatre. A group of players come to Elsinore. They are traveling because companies of boy players are getting all of the audiences in the city. Polonius talks about the various genres they can perform. Hamlet asks the chief player to perform several speeches from a play he admires. In act three the players will perform a play that comments directly on this play. How do all of these meta-theatrical devises affect your engagement with the play?

2.. Hamlet admires the play describing Pyrrhus’s revenge but it also includes the murder of Priam and the horrified reaction of Hecuba (2.2.432-520). Does it seem that revenge is more complicated than it initially appeared?

  1. How does Hamlet relate thought and action in the ‘To be or not to be speech’ (3.1.57-92)? How does he relate word and action in his advice to the players (3.2.1-45)? In what way might they be connected?

(Second hour) 1. Can you think of anything that might justify Hamlet’s behavior toward Ophelia in 3.1.116-52.

  1. What does the Player king tells the Player queen about the relationship between purpose and memory (3.2.184-213)? How connected to the relationship between thought and action, word and action? If human nature is constructed as the Player King says, then how can anyone be expected to remain faithful to a partner? And what does the Player King mean by saying that our wills and fates run contrary to one another?
  2. Is it fair to say that when Claudius attempts to pray in (3.3.35-72) that he seems caught between thought and action? How does Hamlet define revenge it in this scene? What is the great irony?
  3. To what extent is Hamlet in control of his emotions in the interview with his mother in 3.4?


14 May

 (First hour) 1. In 3.4, 4.2.31-2 and 4.3.16-39, how is Polonius’s body treated? To what effect?

  1. Compare Laertes as a revenger to Hamlet. How does Laertes commit himself to revenge?

3 In what way might it be argued that the introduction of the pirates in 4.6 is appropriate in a play so concerned with the importance of individual responsibility for action?      

  1. Read the description and debate about Ophelia’s death, 4.7.167-191, 5.1.1-25. What do you make of the ambiguous outcome?

(Second hour) 1. Why such a cheerful gravedigger? Why so much concern about how long it takes for a body to decay? What conclusions does Hamlet reach after his confrontation with Yorick’s skull?  Do you think that Hamlet’s reaction to Ophelia’s death illustrates the philosophical conclusions he has just come to?

  1. What final conclusions does Hamlet come to about the relationship between thought and action?
  2. Does Hamlet succeed in taking revenge for his father’s death? Or, is he a victim of Claudius’s plot to kill him?


26 May The Tempest

(First hour) 1. In 1.1 what do the characters think is happening to them?

  1. In 1.2 we learn that the tempest was produced by Prospero. What else does he tell us about himself and Miranda? How did he get his powers?
  2. What does he tell us about the island? What was it like when he arrived? Who inhabited the island before him? How was it governed? What kind of life did Ariel live?

(Second hour) 1. Follow the development of the Gonzalo, Alonzo, Sebastian, Antonio plot beginning in 2.1. What would Gonzalo like to do with the island? 

  1. What would Antonio and Sebastian like to do with the island? (Any similarities to what happened to Prospero twelve years before? How difficult a problem has Shakespeare set for himself by creating a character like Antonio?
  2. In 3.3.53-82 Ariel in the shape of a harpy confronts Sebastian, Antonio, and Alonzo and delivers a speech written by Prospero. Paraphrase this speech. What does he mean by "Destiny"? What is the "lower world"? Describe the view of nature presented in this speech. What does he mean by "heart's sorrow/ And a clear life ensuing"? What kind of charm does Prospero put on them at the end of the scene? 

Look up the term masque on line. Write out a definition. In what way is The Tempest masque-like? What implications for interpretation?

28 May

(First hour) 1. In what way does the Caliban, Trinculo, Stephano plot (2.2, 3.2, 4.1. 165-263) complement the Alonzo, Sebastian, Antonio plot? What characteristics do Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo share in common?

  1. Look closely at the development of the relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda (1.2.442-45, 455-502; 3.1.1-92; 4.1.1-56; 5.1.173-187). How do these actions (many of them symbolic) relate to what you know about the structure of romantic comedy?
  2. What is the theme of Prospero’s masque in 4.1? How connected to his insistance that s Ferdinand and Miranda remain virgins before their marriage?

(Second hour) 1. After Prospero is reminded of Caliban’s plot against his life he delivers one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches: ‘our revels now are ended … .’ What does Prospero mean by saying that ‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on.’?

  1. In what way does the Prospero plot subsume and organize the other plots?. How should betrayal and attempted murder of a brother and his daugh

ter by a brother be dealt with? What if the brother is a sociopath? How does Prospero handle this?

  1. How does the epilogue, spoken by the character of Prospero, recapitulate the themes of the play? What decisions/choices are you asked to make?
Catalog Description: 
Introduces Shakespeare's career as dramatist, with study of representative comedies, tragedies, romances, and history plays.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 17, 2020 - 2:00am