Shakespeare’s “Letter to the Ephesians”: The Comedy of Errors as a “Christianized” (Not “Plagiarized”) Pagan Play


Perhaps because it is one of Shakespeare’s earliest and “lightest” plays, The Comedy of Errors has long been understood primarily as little more than an Elizabethan re-telling of an ancient Roman farce, The Brothers Meneachumus by Plautus. By reading Shakespeare’s work in conjunction with Plautus’s and also Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, however, this course will explore the possibility that Shakespeare not only modernized Plautus’s play but also (and more importantly) Christianized it, thereby giving The Comedy of Errors a much deeper significance than is generally realized. Continue reading

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice as Christian Comedy


Although modern interpretations of The Merchant of Venice often focus on the play’s characterization and treatment of the Jewish moneylender Shylock, both the play’s title and plot suggest that Shakespeare’s focus was on the Christian merchant Antonio. Through a careful reading and discussion of Shakespeare’s play in conjunction with selections both from Christopher Marlowe’s roughly contemporaneous The Jew of Malta and from the New Testament, this course will explore Shakespeare’s exaltation of “graceful Christianity” in both the major and minor plot threads of one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays. Continue reading

Tragedy and Comedy of Shakespeare: Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice


As perhaps the greatest dramatist in the English language, Shakespeare was noted for both his tragedies (plays with unhappy endings) and his comedies (plays with happy endings. In this course we will carefully read and discuss one of each in an effort to understand each play in its own right as well as what made Shakespeare “Shakespeare” in general. The tragedy selection will be Hamlet (perhaps one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays) and The Merchant of Venice (perhaps one of his most misunderstood ones). No prior experience of any kind is required. Continue reading

Shakespeare and His Others: Comparisons across Time and Space


Reading Shakespeare’s plays in the context of similar plays by other great (and not-so-great) playwrights allows one to better appreciate the genius of both Shakespeare and his “others”.  In this course we will look at four pairs of plays in order to examine the similarities and differences in each pairing as we seek to understand the plays themselves in particular and “Shakespeare” in general.  After beginning with The Merchant of Venice and the contemporaneous The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, we will consider Romeo and Juliet in conjunction with Nizami’s rendering of the medieval Arabian/Persian love story of Layla and Majnun and Antony and Cleopatra in conjunction with Kalidasa’s medieval Indian play The Recognition of Sakuntala.  We will conclude with a close reading of Hamlet alongside Tom Stoppard’s modern Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Continue reading

Shakespeare’s ‘Letter to the Romans’: ‘Anti-Judaism’ (Not ‘Anti-Semitism’) in The Merchant of Venice


Although The Merchant of Venice is today often perceived as “anti-Semitic”, a careful consideration of both the play and the label suggests that this is not so. Rather, Shakespeare’s play dramatizes both a critique of “legalistic Judaism” similar to the one made by Paul (who arguably lived and died a Jew) in his “Letter to the Romans” and an exaltation of “graceful Christianity”. As such, The Merchant of Venice can be properly understood as the “anti-Judaic comedy of Antonio” rather than as the “anti-Semitic tragedy of Shylock”. Continue reading