Cultural Studies Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare

Putting Shakespeare in context, examining the relevance of his work to the controversies
of his day, and developing conceptions of history that connect Shakespeare's time and
our own, offer to rescue Shakespeare from an abstract "greatness" and make his works
meaningful to students and their lives in today's world.
from Literature and Lives
Texts to Pair
Romeo and Juliet
youth violence, love across ethnic divisions, sexuality
& censorship, parent/child relations, teenage suicide

West Side Story, Habibi
code of manhood, stereotypes of women, witchcraft
and women, relation of humans and environment,
role of women, family power dynamics, teenage
suicide, social class
Taming of the
role of women, male/female relationships,
Renaissance education
Jane Anger's Protection for
The Tempest
colonialism, racism, gender relations Robinson Crusoe, The Coral
Island, Heart of Darkness,
Things Fall Apart
racism, spousal abuse, gender relations, social class
Aprha Behn's Oroonoko
Merchant of
anti-semitism, gender relations, social class
Chaucer's Prioress's Tale
Night's Dream
social class, gender roles and relations  
King Lear
masters and servants, patriarchy, religion  

Resources for Cultural Studies Teaching of Shakespeare

Half-Humankind Texts and Contexts in the Controversy about Women, 1540-1640
by Katherine McManus is a collection of street pamphlets circulated during Shakespeare's day that intensely debate the roles and capacities of women. Placed next to any one of Shakespeare's plays these works would bring new life to the discussion.

Shakespeare and the Nature of Women
by Juliet Dusinberre explores the Protestant attitude toward women and Puritan feminist sympathies in the plays.

Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture: Authority and Obedience
by Mark Burnett is a clear and careful study of Renaissance servitude that opens up new issues and perspectives for examening the relationships of masters and servants in many of Shakespeare's plays.

Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England 1560-1640 by A.L. Beier is a fascinating look at the lives of vagrants, public attitudes toward the poor, and social policies during the time of Shakespeare. Chapters or sections read along with Lear or the Henry IV plays would lead to interesting discussion and fresh insights.

The Moor in English Renaissance Drama by Jack D'Amico draws on the historical relations of England, Morocco, and the Islamic world and provides a reference point for exploring The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice as well as Othello and ongoing attitudes toward Islamic peoples.

Dollimore and Sinfield's Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism is an important collection of New Historicist essays on Shakespeare. It includes the famous (and difficult) essay by Greenblatt "Invisible Bullets" that connects Shakespeare's history plays with colonialism in the New World, and a fine essay on Irish Colonialism and The Tempest, spying in Measure for Measure, feminist criticism, homoeroticism, prostitution, etc.

Surveillance, Militarism, and Drama in the Elizabethian Era by Curt Breight is somewhat difficult but strips away the myth of a benign Shakespearean England and opens up possibilities for rethinking Shakespeare's treatment of kinship and power.

Shakespeare and the Jews by James Shapiro and Anti-Semitic Stereotypes Without Jews: Images of the Jew in England 1290-1700 by Bernard Glassman are both useful books to explore anti-Semitism in Shakespeare's day and are rich resources for reading the Merchant of Venice. (The latter book also addresses Chaucer's "Prioress' Tale.")

Stephen Greenblatt's Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture has wonderful chapters on The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear. His Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England is somewhat more difficult but offers innovative ways of thinking about the history plays.

Literature and Lives: A Response-based, Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching English by Allen Carey-Webb (NCTE 2001) addresses Shakespeare plays in the contexts of homelessness, gender relations, youth violence, colonialism, and anti-semitism.

[Western Michigan University] WMU English Department [WMU English Education]

Revised Date: 2/02