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Dividing the Kingdoms: Interdisciplinary Methods for Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates: Philosophy

Overview: Philosophy

This module introduces undergraduate students to key methods for using Shakespeare to consider essential philosophical questions.  The three activities and two assignments should allow students to begin thinking with Shakespeare as he contemplates ideas that we normally take for granted, like certainty and identity.  After mastering these skills, students can use the service learning exercise in this module to teach middle or high schoolers about the social construction of identity.

This goal of this module is to show how Shakespeare “thinks” and to help students understand how Shakespeare can help them think as well. Philosophy is hard, and at times inaccessible for college students. But Shakespeare makes difficult and often unexamined life questions approachable through his drama. In the first assignment here, students are prodded to see how it is important and necessary in philosophy to question even our most fundamental assumptions. Shakespeare’s play forces us to consider if there is a “truth” and, even more, to examine our own desire for that truth. We too often take such matters for granted. Later assignments bring those questions closer to home, as it were, asking students to question the seemingly established and irrefutable truth of the “self.”

As a supplement to this module, we have digitized two early printings of Lear along with Shakespeare’s primary sources (see Digital Texts).  Students can use the Mirador reader for side-by-side comparison of Shakespeare’s play with his sources, or search these digital texts for keywords related to certainty and identity.

Assignments (out of class)

Assignments (service learning)

Edgar & the Duke of Gloster Meeting King Lear

Edgar & the Duke of Gloster meeting King Lear, who in his madness is proclaiming himself "every inch a king" [IV, 6] [graphic]. LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Digital Image File Name: 26382. The Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection.


About the Scholar


Ken Jackson
Professor & Chair
Room 10401
English Department,
5057 Woodward Ave.
Detroit, MI 48202

Ken Jackson is Professor and Chair of English at Wayne State University, where he also has served as Director of Religious Studies and Associate Dean of the Graduate School. His most recent work is Shakespeare and Abraham (Notre Dame, 2015); he is also the author of Separate Theaters: Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital and the Shakespearean Stage (Delaware, 2005). Along with Arthur F. Marotti, he co-edited Shakespeare and Religion: Early Modern and Postmodern Perspectives, Notre Dame 2011). His articles on Shakespeare, critical theory, and religion have appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, ELR, SEL, Criticism, and Philological Quarterly. Currently he is working on a manuscript titled Shakespeare in the Age of STEM.