Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Theatrical Wonders from Shakespeare to Mozart

ENGLISH 40N

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What is the secret of theatrical illusion? How do the theater and the cinema move us to wonder, sympathetic identification, and reflection? How can the same stories be told in dialogue, dance, and song? How can the theater help society understand and manage social conflict and historical change?

We ask these questions through a close examination of masterpieces by, and responses to, Shakespeare and Mozart. The works we study are arranged in three groups. In the first, we study Shakespeare’s tragedies of young and mature love, Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra. We also consider one of the most brilliant lyric ballets of the repertoire, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. In the second, we consider two romantic comedies in which love is pursued amid a menacing air of social conflict and political revolution: Marivaux’s The Triumph of Love and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In our final group, we consider a set of plays that have a fairy-tale quality: Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Enchanted Island (a recent operatic version of the Tempest that makes use of masterful baroque arias), and Mozart’s perennial favorite, The Magic Flute. We make extensive use of films, rehearsal videos, and the like to understand the creative process. Because we learn from doing, and not just watching, we also learn some of the principles of expressing ourselves forcefully and eloquently through word and gesture. No prior knowledge of music or foreign languages is required.

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).