“Parent-Child Relationships in Three Shakespeare Plays” (2012)

Teacher:  Alan Young                                 

Location:  Keshen Goodman Library

Time: 1:30-3:30.  Mondays, 24 September to 5 November (excluding 8 October), 2012

Parent-child relationships are of considerable significance in a number of Shakespeare’s plays. One thinks of examples such as Shylock and his daughter Jessica, Volumnia and her son Coriolanus, King Henry IV and his son Prince Henry (the future Henry V), Brabantio and his daughter Desdemona, and Egeus and his daughter Hermia. Above all, perhaps, one thinks of the complex parent-child relationships that Shakespeare presents in three of his best-known tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear. The course will be chiefly concerned with these three plays, and it is hoped that those signing up for the course will endeavour to read/re-read the plays (or watch a video performance) so that discussion in class can be as detailed and productive as possible. In approaching the subject-matter of this course, I will offer some historical pointers as to the very different ways that Shakespeare’s contemporaries felt about parent-child relationships. I very much hope to be able to show video clips of performances of key scenes.

24 Sept:  Some historical pointers regarding such matters as arranged marriages, attitudes to the Fifth Commandment, interest vs. affect as a basis for marriage, primogeniture, etc. Introduction to Romeo and Juliet.

1 Oct:  Romeo and Juliet is widely perceived as one of the most enduring love stories, and it contains some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written. However, for Shakespeare’s first audiences, there was much else to consider. Can we learn anything from what those early audiences and readers may have seen as they watched the process of parent-child relationships disintegrating and two families being destroyed?

8 Oct: Thanksgiving Day (No class)

15 and 22 Oct:  Hamlet is a play in which the title-character appears always to be front and central. His angst, his philosophical meditations, his apparent inability to act rather than think have made him an enigmatic, everyman figure that succeeding generations have interpreted according to their own particular interests. However, the play is constructed around the story of two families and their destruction. What can we learn from looking closely at parent-child relationships in this play?

29 Oct and 5 Nov: King Lear is yet another play constructed around the story of two families and their virtual destruction. Once again, knowing a little about attitudes to parent-child relationships in Shakespeare’s time may be helpful to us as we examine this play.