Dr. Michael Bryson
COURSE DESCRIPTION: In
Shakespeare’s time the threat of political chaos was often personified in
the figure of the stage-Machiavel. This kind of figure is portrayed as being
capable of any and all nefarious schemes and duplicitous actions.
Elizabethans held a notion of the Machiavel as a soulless creature dedicated
to endless manipulation, betrayal, and violence as means to power and
advantage (not, of course, that such tactics were wholly unfamiliar in
England). The question this course will ask, is how different are the
tactics (both onstage and in the realm of “real life”) of the Machiavel from
those of the King? Are Shakespeare’s Kings also Shakespeare’s
This course will begin with a look at the works of
Machiavelli himself, then move on to the stage Machiavel tradition, starting
with Lorenzo, the "Machiavel" of Thomas Kyd’s 1592 play, The
Spanish Tragedy, and moving through such Shakespeare plays as Othello,
Hamlet, Richard II, Henry IV (1&2), Henry V, and
EVALUATION METHOD: Midterm
paper (5-7 pages), a final paper (8-10 pages), class participation.
Two essays, as noted
above, will be required. The first will be an analysis of a
character or characters from one (or more) of the plays in terms of the concepts found
in Machiavelli's The Prince. This essay will be due at the end of week 5.
The second essay will include other historical sources (primarily
contemporary to Shakespeare). This essay will be due Friday noon of finals
week. A more detailed description of this essay may be found
Week 1: Introductions. The Prince: Machiavelli in
16th-century Italian politics. Ruling power by Human or Divine right? The
“stage-Machiavel”: medieval Vice meets realpolitik on the gleeful
confessional of the Elizabethan stage.
Week 2: The Spanish Tragedy. Lorenzo: The Machiavel as
Week 3: Othello. Iago: The Machiavel as Venetian soldier. See
the handout on contemporary debates on the
nature of women.
Week 4: Hamlet. Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, and well…nearly
everyone else in the play (maybe even Ophelia…): Is Hamlet Shakespeare’s
Week 5: Richard II. Richard and Henry: Kingship by divine
right or by strength of arms? Henry Bolingbroke as English Machiavel.
Week 6: Henry IV part 1. Prince Hal: The politics of
appearance and reality (but which is which?).
Week 7: Henry IV part 2. Prince Hal: Bargains and betrayals as
means to power.
Week 8: Henry V. King Henry: The staging of heroism and
leadership. Power as performance.
Week 9: Richard III. Richard: The medieval Vice as King.
books will be available at the Norris Center Bookstore.)
Shakespeare--Othello, Hamlet, Richard II, Henry IV parts 1&2, Henry
V, Richard III
Thomas Kyd--The Spanish Tragedy
Tim Spiekerman--Shakespeare's Political Realism