By Sarah Wright
Wrapping Up Unit 1
This week, I managed to work (well, read) my way through the bulk of the first unit, which is titled 'Introductions to the Legend.' As with last week, the readings primarily focus on contextualizing historical and cultural information. Last week, I complained a bit that we hadn't read any Shakespeare so far, but going further into the foundational readings I'm beginning to see the point of focusing so much on secondary material.
At this point, I have a much more thorough understanding of what Elizabethan England was like from a sociocultural point of view. A strict hierarchy governed life at that time, and it seems that social mobility would have been very difficult to achieve. According to one of the readings, you'd even need a license to beg on the streets. I also learned that Shakespeare himself was a great admirer of Queen Elizabeth, which surprised me for some reason. I suppose I'd always assumed that because he can be somewhat cheeky in his representations of royalty Shakespeare had a bit of a rebellious streak when it came to authority. But there seems to be evidence to prove the opposite, and it was interesting to read about that.
Another interesting shift in perception that came about through the readings focuses on the sense of religious unrest that pervaded Elizabethan society and the rest of Europe at that time. The defeat of the Spanish Armada may have served as a symbolic victory for Protestantism (Queen Elizabeth's religion) over Catholicism in addition to being an important political accomplishment for the queen. However, all was not perfectly religiously harmonious in England - the Puritans began to gain traction during Elizabeth's reign. Though many of Shakespeare's plays are set in a time and place other than Elizabethan England, this foundational information will hopefully provide some interesting interpretive opportunities when I start reading his actual work.
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Though I'm starting to settle in to the class, a few technical drawbacks are becoming apparent to me. For one, I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to complete the readings in an online format. I work and spend plenty of time on the Internet, but I've found myself getting headaches and having trouble reading the text in some of the assigned articles. The font can be small, and the formatting for each article is different, so sometimes I find myself squinting, while occasionally I have to sit back from the screen to be able to read the text.
It seems like a minor thing, but if I'm going to sit down and commit to doing a few hours of reading, it becomes difficult. Maybe it's just that I'm accustomed to reading things in print (I tended to print out online articles when I was in college), but I'm finding it hard to stay focused sometimes. Overall I'm finding that, as I said last week, the time estimates for each assignment are not in line with my actual experience. I'm managing to move through at a fair clip by devoting an average of a couple of hours each night of the week.
I am not yet completely finished with Unit 1 - I still have to read works by Shakespeare's contemporaries Chrisopher Marlow and Ben Jonson. But I'm excited to begin the next unit, which looks at Shakespeare's comedies. There is one foundational assignment at the beginning of Unit 2, and then the comedy All's Well that Ends Well. I've never read or seen an adaptation of this play, so it will be interesting to see how well I can get through it. Since the plot is unfamiliar to me and I have no professors or classmates to discuss it with, it will be up to me alone to determine what's going on while I'm reading.
Catch up with our progress by reading the diary entry from week one.