Shakespeare’s stage is inhabited by rulers, liars, servants, creatures out of fairy, lovers, soldiers, parents, true friends, and betrayers. In addition to letting us see their actions, the major characters in each play turn to us to share their internal struggle to find their
place in the world, their identity. Whether they make us laugh or cry, these figures present us with life questions that still resonate in our own lives. Who should wield power—in a friendship, in a marriage, in a nation? When should we pursue justice, vengeance, or mercy? (And is the answer the same for all of us?) How can we achieve a right relationship with nature and our fellow humans? What is true love—and how can we find it? As we read six Shakespeare plays together, we will carefully trace how various identities (individual, social, and national) are constructed, performed, and exploded. We will also explore Shakespeare’s identity—as a writer and actor churning out popular entertainment in noisy, bawdy, renaissance London, (the Globe Theater was just around the corner from the Bear Pit after all!)—and his afterlife as the “bard” of English literature, revered for a wit, power, and poetry that have embedded these plays into our literature and lives.