Shakespeare's season pairs: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Hamlet

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There is fair evidence that Dream and Romeo were, like Twelfth Night and Hamlet, premiered in the same season. How do these seemingly dissimilar comedies and tragedies pair and what if anything binds them together, in substance or structure? Some of the answers are likely to surprise you!

The order in which Shakespeare composed and premiered his plays is generally agreed in outline and uncertain in detail—but among the uncertainties both internal and external evidence strongly suggest some plays as standing in particular relation as season-pairs, presumably written and apparently first performed in close proximity. The course will look at two such pairs, asking what we can learn from their mutual reflections.

The connection of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet is most often remarked in relation to Dream’s inset-performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, a skeletal version of Romeo and Juliet, and to Mercutio’s ‘Queen Mab’ speech, filled with imagery that seems to come straight from Dream . Incidental overspill from a fast-working playwright? Merely moments of incidental laughter and wonder? Or is there some more profound and creative connection that led Shakespeare to balance his tragedies and comedies of love in 1595-6?

The connection of Twelfth Night and Hamlet is less often remarked, but their dates are very close; one is a rather funny revenge tragedy and the other a rather bleak revenge comedy; and the casts show unexpected similarities. Both plays have, for example, a brother-sister pairing parted by (supposed) drowning, a female figure who mourns too much or too little, and an odd couple about whom a painful comedy swirls, while at their hearts a melancholic revenger puts on an antic disposition and a professional fool manipulates the whirligig of time to bring in his revenge on another melancholic.

Starting with a consideration of what might be involved in creating such pairs, and of Shakespeare’s concerns with sequence, we shall look at each of the four plays in turn with a beady eye to similarities and variations. Some clips from various of the screen adaptations of these plays will also be on offer.

This course is part of the University of Cambridge Shakespeare Summer School.

To apply for this course, please enrol on the Shakespeare Summer School and select the courses you wish to study.

For more information about other Summer School programmes please visit:
www.ice.cam.ac.uk/intsummer/programmes.

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Unless otherwise stated, teaching and assessment for ICE courses is in English. Students for whom English is not their first language should refer to the Competence in the English Language Policy for further guidance.

Printable versions of our brochures are available to download from the Summer Schools brochure download page.

This course is part of the University of Cambridge Shakespeare Summer School.

To apply for this course, please enrol on the Shakespeare Summer School and select the courses you wish to study.

For more information about other Summer School programmes please visit:
www.ice.cam.ac.uk/intsummer/programmes.

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University of Cambridge
International Programmes
Institute of Continuing Education
Madingley Hall
Madingley
Cambridgeshire
United Kingdom
CB23 8AQ

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Course details

Start date

14 August 2011

End date

20 August 2011

Course code

Sb1

Duration

1 week

Venue

International Summer Schools
Sidgwick Site
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge
United Kingdom

Teaching sessions

Meetings: 5

Course director