HUMS 179, Shakespeare’s Political Plays

Meeting Time: 
T 9:25am-11:15am

Course Description:

This seminar discusses the workings of ambition and conscience in some exemplary plays by Shakespeare. We will consider how political legitimacy is achieved, and how it is perpetuated. We will be concerned throughout with the tension between morality and expedience, between self-knowledge and the exercise of power over others.

Led by:

David Bromwich's picture

Professor David Bromwich

Professor David Bromwich is a Sterling Professor of English. He has published widely on Romantic criticism and poetry, and on eighteenth-century politics and moral philosophy. His book Politics by Other Means concerns the role of critical thinking and tradition in higher education, and defends the practice of liberal education against political encroachments from both Left and Right. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other U.S. and British journals.

He is a frequent contributor of political blog posts on the Huffington Post. Since 2017, he has served as a trustee of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC. 


This course was previously offered in the Fall of 2020 and 2016. Testimonials are taken from student course evaluations.

  • This class was great. I came into it not really loving Shakespeare and wanting to try something to make me at least appreciate his work, and Professor Bromwich certainly helped me achieve that. He is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about not just Shakespeare but also how Shakespeare’s plays engage with other works (for instance we read essays by Montaigne and Bacon to accompany some seminars) and how his plays connect with each other. I felt like I didn’t just close-read each play but also gained an understanding of how the plays fit with each other. Professor Bromwich draws your attention to certain scenes, and even if you don’t understand them when you read by yourself, after seminar you surely gain an appreciation for their emotions and language. 
  • The strength of this course is Bromwich’s expertise; he really has a fascinating way of reading and interpreting Shakespeare that is fun to dive into. This is one of those seminars where you get the privilege to see text through the eyes of an expert. 
  • A great class on the greatest plays, taught by America’s last public intellectual. What more could an English major wish for? I would ABSOLUTELY take this course. It won’t give you the same Elizabethan context than either the ENGL 200 or ENGL 201 Shakespeare classes have, but Professor Bromwich goes so much deeper into the plays than the lectures do you won’t regret it. Pretty much every word he says in class is pure gold, and I have more quotes written down from Bromwich in class than I do Shakespeare. 
  • I did not truly know Shakespeare before I took this course. Any lecture course on Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories pales in comparison to what Professor Bromwich was able to do in class. I developed a newfound ability to not just see the plot and the themes of each play, but truly get inside the head of the characters. The final, 20-page paper for the course was also a good experience and helped me see what a senior thesis might be like. There aren’t many courses at Yale about which I would say the following, but this course is undoubtedly one of them: this class was life-changing, and has made me a better person and scholar.