What did Shakespeare know about love?Photo: Katy Owen as…

What did Shakespeare know about love?

Photo: Katy Owen as Malvolio in Twelfth Night, 2017, photo by Hugo Glendinning

Ahead of her course this August, Jane Kingsley-Smith from The University of Roehampton wanted to ask – what did Shakespeare know about love?

Shakespeare’s work seems to epitomise romantic love in popular culture. Teenage passion is modelled on Romeo and Juliet; sexual jealousy finds its echoes in Othello; the blindness of infatuation is defined by the Sonnets. But to what extent was Shakespeare’s imagining of love determined by his culture?

This course will examine the various theories that shaped the experience of love in Shakespeare’s time. Love was imposed by a mythological deity, Cupid; it was a humoral imbalance in the body that caused literal sickness; a poetic tradition through which one might achieve political aims; a myth that facilitated marriage and population growth. By understanding these competing theories, we can gain some sense of Shakespeare’s own philosophy of love, as developed in the plays, and how it influenced his contemporaries.  


Photo: Kirsty Bushell as Juliet and Edward Hogg as Romeo in
Romeo and Juliet, 2016, photo by Robert Workman

Whilst Shakespearean love is created by language, it is also something to be enacted on a stage. Shakespeare worked with a set of theatrical conventions for performing love which might include the use of physical space, gesture, music and stage effects. Workshops with Globe professionals will enable participants on this course to explore how the illusion of love was created on stage, with particular focus on Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Much Ado About Nothing.

Finally, we will examine the notion of Shakespeare himself as a lover. From the eighteenth century onwards, Shakespeare’s capacity to feel love has been one of his most praised qualities, and biographical hints in the Sonnets have led to poems, plays, novels and latterly films which re-imagine Shakespeare as a lover. But why are we so concerned with the way in which Shakespeare loved, and how is this perception of Shakespearean desire changing in the modern world?  


Photo: Joshua Lacey as Orsino and Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Viola in
Twelfth Night, photo by Hugo Glendinning

This course promises to enrich our understanding of the value placed on love in Shakespeare’s work, in early modern culture, and in our own lives.

The course Shakespeare On Love takes place this August and places are still available. 

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