Why Shakespeare?

Course Description: Expos 20

Since 1872, a course in expository writing has been the one academic experience required of every Harvard student. Expos 20 is the cornerstone course offering by the Harvard College Writing Program and fulfills the College’s expository writing requirement.

Section Description: Why Shakespeare?

Shakespeare, we have all been told, is extremely important. You might agree or disagree with this pronouncement, but do you know why Shakespeare matters to so many people? Why does every high school in America assign Shakespeare? Why did the world erupt with jubilation on his 450th birthday in 2014? Why did the British government pay $2.4 million to have Shakespeare translated into Mandarin? Why is Hamlet the most celebrated work of art in the world? Does Shakespeare deserve all this fuss, or is he overrated? In this section, Shakespeare lovers and haters alike (both are invited) consider the question of Shakespeare’s popularity by investigating the relationship between the way he wrote his plays and the values of the modern world. We begin with Hamlet, the most famous artwork of the past millennium. We proceed with a study of Shakespeare in the context of his sources and some modern adaptations. Previous semesters have studied, for example, Such Tweet Sorrow (a Twitter adaptation of Romeo and Juliet) and “the Romeo and Juliet effect” (a social science theory suggesting that parental interference deepens romantic love). Finally, we ask the big question of this course, Why Shakespeare?, and entertain answers ranging from the cynical (Shakespeare is a dead, white male that other dead, white males have used to promote the values of dead, white males) to the euphoric (Shakespeare is universal; Shakespeare invented the human). In each of these units, students develop the skills of interpretation and argumentation that are the foundation of all academic writing in all disciplines.