The department’s honors program gives our seniors the opportunity to conduct intense and independent work in English literature and language. The program begins in the fall semester with an Honors Seminar, in which all honors students are required to enroll.
In the spring semester, each student completes an honors thesis on a topic of their own choosing. The thesis is ordinarily an extended scholarly or critical essay, but majors in creative writing can submit extended work in prose or poetry as their thesis.
While the fall seminar is intended to prepare and focus students for the in-depth work of writing an honors thesis, the possible topics for theses need in no way be bound to the seminar topic.
All junior English majors are invited to apply.
Fall 2018 Honors Seminar (ENG 396)
Shakespeare and Modernity
Professor Kenneth Gross
Part of the urgency of Shakespeare lies in how his writing inspires later creative work. My aim in the seminar is to read a group of Shakespeare’s plays in tandem with some major works of modern literature that respond to those plays, re-interpreting and transforming them, even subjecting them to violent parody. These are works that make the original plays into something new. I want to map the distance between Shakespeare and his modern inheritors, but also make clear what they deeply share, including aspects of Shakespeare’s work that anticipate crucial elements of modern literature, its playfulness, irony, and surreality, its range of linguistic invention and its starkness of psychological and moral questioning. The list of paired texts we’ll read includes Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, King Lear and Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and August Strindberg’s Dream Play, The Tempest and W. H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror, and Macbeth and Alfred Jarry’s satirical King Ubu. We’ll also be looking at T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a modern poem which offers a vast echo chamber of a whole array of Shakespeare plays (including The Tempest, Hamlet, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra), as well as Eliot’s “Coriolan,” his response to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Other possible works are Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV (a Hamlet-like play, with a madman playing at being a king) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which is full of echoes of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and other romances. We may also look at some modern cinematic transformations of Shakespeare plays, such as Akira Kurosowa’s Throne of Blood (based on Macbeth) and Ingmar Bergman’s The Smiles of a Summer’s Night (a film full of echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Students will be encouraged to pursue their own lines of research into Shakespeare’s modern inheritors and adaptors. The seminar can count for either by the pre- or post-1800 requirement in the major.