Why is Shakespeare the Supreme Dramatist?
One explanation of Shakespeare's having earned his reputation as the greatest of dramatists lies in his understanding of human nature. Of the many plays that exhibit this understanding three in particular have captivated while perplexing audiences for four centuries. The three plays with which we will be concerned in this course are notable for depicting powerful and intelligent men confronted with choices of the greatest consequence. Upon their various decisions depend the lives of people entrusted to their care, the fate of powerful adversaries, and, at stake as well the protagonists' own honor, fortune, and their very lives. We will put to test the hypothesis that Shakespeare seeks to understand human nature by confronting great men with fateful choices.
Julius Caesar and Hamlet present Shakespeare as maker of tragic dramas, Henry V exhibits his artistry as writer of "Histories." The first play portrays Shakespeare's view of pagan, classical antiquity at the final crisis of the republic, whereas the two dramas we examine subsequently are set within an era Christian and monarchical. We will be concerned to see how these differences may bear upon Shakespeare's conception of human nature.
Classes will combine lectures and discussion, with a general introduction followed by two weekly meetings devoted to each of the three plays.