Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Theatrical Wonders from Shakespeare to Mozart

ENGLISH 40N

What is the secret of theatrical illusion? How does the theater move us to wonder, sympathetic identification, and reflection? How can the theater help society understand and manage social conflict and historical change? 

We will ask these questions through a close examination of plays by Shakespeare and operas by Mozart, read in conjunction with some theatrical masterpieces that inspired or were inspired by Shakespeare and Mozart. We will study Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1595), Anthony and Cleopatra (1606), and The Tempest (1611) and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786), and The Magic Flute (1791), the first operas to become permanent fixtures of the opera repertoire. Going to the theater, the opera house, or the ballet is one of the great pleasures of life; I hope this seminar will equip students to take advantage of it for the rest of their lives. To get a start on that goal, we will attend live performances of Gounod’s opera Romeo and Juliet and of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro at the San Francisco Opera House. Course assignments will develop students’ appreciation of acting, singing, classical ballet, and stage direction as arts. We will learn both by reading and by doing. No prior knowledge of music or foreign languages is required; neither is prior experience in theatricals.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Blair Hoxby

Blair Hoxby is Professor of English. After graduating from Harvard University, he studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Then, after dabbling in the worlds of fiction-writing and management consulting, he received his Ph.D. in English and American literature from Yale University. After several years of teaching at Yale and Harvard, he joined the Stanford English Department. He has written extensively on all aspects of early modern theater, from theories of acting to stage machines and theater design, including the books What Was Tragedy? Theory and the Early Modern Canon(2015) and Milton in the Long Restoration(2016).