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Northwestern University

Shakespeare’s Circuits

Two English professors lead a new course exploring the Bard’s extensive global reach

This winter, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Northwestern University English professors Wendy Wall and Will West will offer an innovative new course, “Shakespeare’s Circuits: Global, Local, Digital,” exploring Shakespeare’s influence through centuries and cultures.

Wall, in her 26th year at Northwestern and the current director of the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, discusses the new course and Shakespeare’s continued relevance.

What will students be doing in this course?

There will be the old-fashioned work of reading and interpreting plays, examining what Shakespeare’s works meant in their original time and what they can mean today, as well as investigating deep, traditional humanistic questions about how literature speaks to cultural issues.

In addition, we want to explore Shakespeare’s powerful global impact and how he was received in different parts of the world throughout time. Students will divide into groups and explore a particular region of the world, collaborating to produce an interactive digital map showing how Shakespeare’s work spread across the globe.

We also want to extend learning beyond the classroom’s walls. We’ll take students into the lab at the [Northwestern] library and to the rare book room at the Newberry Library to learn about media studies in the 16th century. We’ll also take trips to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and see musical adaptations of Shakespearean work.

What do you hope students take away from the course?

Shakespeare didn’t [just] write plays, put the ink down and declare the work finished. Beyond the imaginative and beautiful performances, we hope students appreciate the Shakespearean play as a living, mobile process and a tool to help us understand culture then and now.

Four centuries after Shakespeare’s death, why does he remain so fascinating?

Much of my teaching and research focuses on 16th and 17th century English writers, a period in which Shakespeare was a dominant figure. Even when my research touches on broader topics like the stage, printing or even food recipes, Shakespeare inevitably comes up. He was a master of language and psychology and a skeptical prober of everything we hold dear and close to us.

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