COURSE AIMS AND EXPECTATIONS
In this course we’ll study the second
half of Shakespeare's career, with special attention to his
work in tragedy. We'll also read two comedies: Twelfth
Night and The Merchant of Venice. After reading
Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear,
we’ll finish with The Tempest, a play written
approximately a decade after Hamlet that combines
elements of both comedy and tragedy. In our readings we'll
take a close look at Shakespeare's treatment of the
differences between villainy and heroism. Is the tragic hero
a flawed individual or more noble than the rest of humanity?
Or both? In our studies we’ll ask whether the play comes
first or the character. Can we understand a character apart
from the play in which we find that character? Hopefully, as
the course proceeds, we'll learn to enjoy these plays as the
creations of one of the most astonishing minds in the
history of Western culture.
As far as an assignment schedule is
concerned, I have discovered over the years that the best
approach in a Shakespearean course is to be flexible. Often
a discussion of a play or group of plays will lead to new
ideas and insights and require more class time than
originally planned for the material. My goal is to have
serious discussions that are open to possibilities neither I
nor the students can anticipate. That is why I will assign
our readings as we go along, giving the class no less than
one week’s notice in advance of each assignment. The amount
of reading done on this basis will be the same as the amount
the class would do on a rigid schedule.
1. Participation and attendance (10%).
Students are expected to attend every class and actively
contribute to discussion. There are no unexcused absences,
and the instructor should be notified in advance if an
absence is unavoidable. Call my office or the English Office
(ext. 2562) and leave a message with the secretary or e-mail
me if you cannot be in class.
Class contribution takes several forms.
Students may ask questions at any point during a class;
students and teacher may engage in question-and-answer
sessions; the class as a whole may engage in open
discussion, sharing ideas and attempting as a group to
deepen our understanding of the material. Students should
work at participating effectively in all these formats.
Class participation will be evaluated on the basis of
evidence of preparation and thoughtfulness about the
material. The most important criterion, in my view, is
whether one’s contribution to class discussion contributes
to the learning of others, including myself. I especially
encourage students to share their opinions and to back them
up. I like vigorous discussion.
Note, too, that several films will be
scheduled for class viewing. Attendance will be required;
advance notice will be given as to time and place.
2. Preparations and quizzes (20%).
There will be quotation quizzes on the plays assigned. These
quizzes will be given on the second class day after each
reading assignment is first discussed. There will also be
class preparation material due the first day of each reading
assignment cycle. (See attached example.) You should be
aware that class preparation will be important in this
3. Written work (70%). Two critical
papers will be assigned on themes and topics to be
discussed; the focus of these papers will be on a conceptual
understanding of Shakespearean tragedy. The first paper will
be approximately five pages long, and the second 8-10 pages;
both will involve research (the use of at least two
secondary off-line sources). These papers are to be well
organized and thoroughly proofread.
The format of the first sample student
paper in The Little, Brown Handbook, in the chapter
entitled “Two Sample Research Papers,” is to be followed;
bibliographic and “Works Cited” formats are to be found in
the chapter entitled “Documenting Sources: MLA Style.”Any
paper that has not been spell-checked will receive an
automatic “F.” All corrections and editorial changes
indicated by the instructor must be made before the next
paper is submitted, otherwise the grade on the following
paper will be "F." I call this the “Magic Check” process. No
When the second paper is submitted, it
must be accompanied in a plain tab folder by the first
paper. A third, optional paper may also be done. When the
optional paper is submitted, it, too, must be accompanied in
the folder by previous work. All papers are due at the start
of class from the author on the specified due date; papers
not handed in on time will be penalized.
4. An optional final exam is available
for those who elect it. In my opinion, only those students
who feel they are between grades should elect this option.
The grade on this exam will be used to determine which of
two grades (higher or lower) the student will receive.
5. The Mercer Honor Code is in effect
at all times in this course. The consequences of violating
this code are serious, and all students should be aware of
6. Overall grading philosophy. Grades
on papers, prep sheets, quizzes, and participation will not
necessarily be averaged; much weight will be given to
improvement. Each student's written work will be assessed on
an individual basis, with emphasis on consistency and the
ability to achieve higher standards as the course proceeds.
This is called “outcome grading.” I regard it as a truer
measure of student learning than the averaging method. It
isn’t as tidy, but it’s more individual and more closely
reflects the actual learning curve. In my experience, this
method achieves more accurate results than the traditional
In addition to the assigned work, each
student may do extra assignments based on the course
reading, campus events (films, plays, etc.), as well as
outside reading. This work will be read and graded and
included in the above-mentioned folder. Thus, much work in
this class may well be individually generated. I call this
process “Making the Case for the ‘A.’” Note: the averaging
method may be elected by a student if that student so
chooses; this must be done at the start of the course.
Notify me within a week of the start of the semester. After
one week, there can be no changes in the grading system.
Further note: It is course policy that
all assigned work (papers, quizzes, prep sheets, etc.) must
be completed in order for a student to pass the course.
Again, no exceptions.
Students with a documented
disability should inform the instructor at the close of the
first class meeting or as soon as possible. If you are not
registered with Disability Services, the instructor will
refer you to the Student Support Services office for
consultation regarding documentation of your disability and
eligibility for accommodations under the ADA/504. In order
to receive accommodations, eligible students must provide
each instructor with a Faculty Accommodation Form from
Disability Services. Students must return the completed and
signed form to the
Disability Services office on the
3rd floor of the Connell Student Center. Students with a
documented disability who do not wish to use accommodations
are strongly encouraged to register with Disability Services
and complete a Faculty Accommodation Form each semester.
For further information please contact Disability Services
at 301-2778 or visit the web site at