Shakespeare I

May 2017

Overall, I enjoyed this class. We read 10 plays this semester plus a narrative poem and 60 sonnets, so it's very heavy reading. There are 5 response papers due throughout the semester, approximately every other week. A lot of people didn't put effort into them, but they are very helpful when prepping for the midterm and final, which is basically the same format. The final paper was supposed to be 8-9 pages, but Prof. Eisendrath cut it to 6-7 pages. Professor Eisendrath was good at facilitating class discussion with a 60-person class in a 200+ people lecture hall, but she did not finish analyzing each play every week and we had to often rush through some aspects of the discussion to finish discussing every play by the end of the semester. She also decided to switch the syllabus and read another play with less than 2 days' notice and postpone the other one for two months, which was irritating because I had already started reading the play.

Dec 2016

Unenthusiastic lecturer. Cynical, jaded, touchy, passive aggressive. Plays favorites and anti-favorites. Indulges people who ramble on and on unproductively in class. Seemed like he was really not invested in teaching. Would roll his eyes in boredom after he finished reading off his script. Grades papers in weird way. His grading scheme is streamlined for minimal effort on his part/his TA's part. Doesn't give a damn about quality of ideas--if your paper fits his required, formulaic structure, you'll get an A. And if it doesn't fit THAT STRUCTURE to a tee, you'll get a B. Even if everything else is there. In other words, the papers are not graded based on content. They're graded based on how well they fit his mold. Not usually what happens in lit classes, right? Ideally no. Overall: Avoid.

Jan 2015

Professor Eisendrath specializes in Renaissance poetry, and while not specifically a Shakespeare scholar is very well versed in the material. Her lectures are interesting and entertaining, and she makes sure to encourage in-class discussion despite the large size of the class (60 students). Professor Eisendrath never pushed her own interpretations of the work, but allowed students to express their own while guiding the discussions. Key passages are read aloud by the students. Participation is strictly voluntary. The class covered a new play every week, and took a field trip to see a production by the visiting Royal Shakespeare Company. If you are a casual Shakespeare lover or need a literature class for a requirement, I would recommend this course.

Apr 2013

I don't know why this man doesn't have a gold star. The first few classes made me want to shit my pants (he barked so gruffly at the students who arrived late that I was genuinely scared to go to the bathroom mid-lecture), but you will quickly learn that his no-nonsense persona is just part of his teaching act; he is one of the warmest, most generous, most dedicated people I know beneath that spiky shell. His classroom, after all, is a theatre: every lecture begins with audience participation, and he thoughtfully and successfully uses your gut reactions to each reading as a starting point for more serious discussion. He wants you to read Shakespeare as much as you think about how you FEEL when reading a specific play or poem. He also cares immensely about your writing: he will treat everything you write as if you were submitting it to the copy desk at The New Yorker, and he will give you sharp, thorough feedback on your work throughout the writing process (I still get goosebumps when I read his comments on my final essay). Basically, you are doing yourself a terrible disservice by not taking this class before you graduate. He is, by far, my favorite teacher, and his lectures made me feel more alive than those of any other professor at Columbia.

Oct 2012

Shakespeare Shapiro is an old-school professor. He's strict when it comes to cell phones, punctuality, and doing assignments--although he is flexible about deadlines. He can be aggressive and make students uncomfortable, but it seems more for the purpose of getting a good answer out of the class than it is an attempt to belittle anyone. Shapiro is interesting and has a unique perspective. His class is the second I've taken at Columbia that I looked forward to and didn't want to miss.

Jan 2012

Prof. Murray presented organized lectures with an effective, affected tone that made a class of over one hundred feel like a class of thirty. Her lectures throughout the semester were comprehensive and connected. She was receptive to office hours and remembered names after one or two visits--again, an impressive feat in a class of this size. She is quickly responsive to emails, and very reasonable about her workload. After effusively offering extensions for the first paper and sixty members of the class took her up on it, she refused to tie extensions for the second paper. Not sure of our class disillusioned her from offering ever again, but it might be worth being cautious with that offer in the future.

Dec 2010

Shapiro is a cool guy, but having taken Shakespeare I with him, I'm actually left feeling pretty ambivalent about the class. Sure, I left with a heightened ability to read Shakespeare texts, but I have a feeling this has more to do with the sheer number of texts we had to read than with Shapiro's lectures. Yes, Shapiro keeps you awake at 9 AM, there's lots of fun acting, etc. etc. but the class itself isn't particularly intellectual. This is frustrating, because, as your in-depth and amusingly harsh paper comments will illuminate, Shapiro's a really smart guy. His lectures though, with the exception of a couple, seem dumbed down and didn't inspire me in the way that a lot of other professors in the English department have. Often, the class was left sitting in silence while Shapiro asked inane, obvious questions that no one wanted to answer. Assignments (the final paper and final exam) are pretty interesting and get you thinking, but I couldn't help wishing, while I took the final, that Shapiro had toned down the entertainment and his personality in order to teach the answers to these sorts of stimulating questions. If you're not put off by this class's lack of content, by all means take it. But I'd carefully consider your choice, especially if you have options to take a class with Jenny Davidson or Erik Gray.

Dec 2010

Take his class. Do it. These are not boring lectures - Shapiro lopes around the room cold-calling, staging scenes, and asking intimate questions about bodily functions. He isn't quite a close-reading kind of guy, although he does get into the nuances of language. But really, it's a comprehensive, big-ideas class. Because Shapiro's interested in Shakespeare's process and the circumstances of the Elizabethan literary scene (yes), this class is as much history as it is literature. It's sort of like watching a Ken Burns documentary about Shakespeare instead of taking a class on him, only with a lot of mimed sex that sometimes you have to get up and participate in. (Avoidable by consistently sitting in the last row, like a leper.)

Dec 2010

The fact that Shapiro's 9am, 6th floor Hamilton Shakespeare class is consistently one of the hardest lectures to get into ought to tell you something. This semester he chatted with Julie Taymor as part of the NYFF and he jets off every summer to consult for The Globe. He teaches Shakespeare not just as texts but as plays that force the reader, director, actor, and audience to answer hard questions and make difficult interpretative decisions (some of which you can't be aware of from reading the text alone). Almost every class he makes a group of students get up and act out certain key scenes to drive the point home (while the rest of the class shouts out just how they would like the soldier to pike the dead baby or smear the father in his child's blood). He has the requisite Shakespeare prof reverence for the material but also emphasizes production history and how each play has been reinterpreted to respond to the times in which it has been performed. Engaging, thought-provoking, entertaining, top-notch class. Bizarre that he isn't a gold nugget already. He really cares about your writing and though there are only 2 assignments - a theater review and a paper on Hamlet - he gives extremely detailed (often punishing) notes and won't let sloppy thinking or writing slide. Also one of the few English professors who isn't cripplingly socially awkward outside of class, so go to his office hours - he expects it, especially for the paper.

Nov 2010

Shapiro is one of those polarizing professors who you either love or strongly dislike, but I must say that most people I know really love him. Yes, he gives a scary speech the first day of class about how he'll throw your cell phone out the window if he hears it ring or how he won't let you into the class if you're late, but his bark is much bigger than his bite. He's an excellent teacher—enthusiastic, insightful, and honestly even inspirational, despite the fact that he's taught the class about a billion times. I thought he really made the plays and sonnets we read come alive... clearly Shakespeare isn't exactly fresh material but he approaches it as if both he and his students are reading it for the first time. It IS a pain in the ass that the class is at 9am, totally brutal (and chances are you'll be on the 7th floor of Hamilton because, as he told my class, he specifically requests that room so that students will have to walk all the way up there and it "gets your blood pumping"), but I really think it's worth it. I also really suggest that you go to his office hours, especially to talk about your final paper, because then you get a chance to see his softer side—he transforms from the intimidating famous Shakespeare expert to a chill guy who wants to help you get a good grade in his class (which, by the way, is totally doable if you do most of the reading). Believe the hype and take this class!

Aug 2009

Previous reviews have focused on his charisma, intelligence, dynamism, and prowess, to which I can only say: all of it is true; he’s pretty fucking great. One thing that caught me off-guard – this thing that other reviewers have neglected to mention – is that he’s one of those English professors that makes you go to class. By testing you on the material presented within. You have to go to class, every time. (He shares this stylistic trait with his sister, Jill, of ‘The Human Species’ fame.) This would be more of a treat if it wasn’t at nine in the morning. Sure, Shakespeare’s language is abstruse and the two assignments (review and paper) ain’t no ride on no pink duck, but for the diurnal college student the toughest challenge will be getting to class on time and staying not just awake, but active and attentive. This is what a previous reviewer meant when he said ‘The midterm and final are punitive.’ Once you show up, everything will fall into place. He meets with everyone for the paper, true, but then you get to see that his bilious exterior is just that, and that he’s a kind and conscientious man who will go to the felt for his students if need be.

Dec 2008

Peter is AMAZING. he was one of my favorite english professors that ive ever had at columbia or barnard. He is so willing to talk to you oustide of class and discuss grades, or just life in general. He is very flexible and kind and truly is passionate about the subject. He makes Shakesperian literature fascinating... I loved getting up every Monday morning for a 9am class just because he is so riveting and funny. He takes drafts for all papers and makes extensive comments and when people did poorly on the midterm he offered a makeup assignment for extra credit. Even if you never thought Shakespeare was your thing-- take this class, because then it will be.

Jan 2007

Much of this class was just review for me, since I've read and loved all of Shakespeare's plays for many years. However, taking Platt's course exposed me to new ideas and things that I had not thought about before. This is exactly what university SHOULD (but too often does not) do. The professor himself is very charismatic and has obvious passion for what he teaches. The lectures are never boring (at least they were not to me) but he is too nice to really rein in some of the idiots who want to spend half of class talking about their nonsensical interpretations of the plays. This was the only bad thing. Platt is readily accessable - his office hours are right after class - and if you cannot go (as I could not) he is available by email, which is very useful. I would heartily recommend this class to anyone who is willing to do all the reading.

Dec 2006

Professor Platt is fantastic. He is witty, brilliant, and so enthusiastic about Shakespeare that you can't help but be sucked in. He also happens to be adorable, telling doting stories about his son and bringing in Oreos during the final. He is open to everyone's opinion and encourages alternative interpretations, but he's not wishy-washy about his own--he'll acknowledge and appreciate something he doesn't agree with but provide his own thoughts on it as well (not like some professors who will accept even the most outlandish of comments without question). I would recommend this class to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare, theater, the 17th century, language... The only problem is that a lot of people don't read the plays for every class period, so it's the same 6 people talking ("doing the heavy lifting," as Platt says). But ultimately it's a great course, and Platt is a great professor.

Jan 2006

I took Shakespeare I with Prof. Shapiro, and there is no teacher (that I have had, at least) who is even comparable to his winning combination of brilliance and entertainment. If you go in liking Shakespeare, you will come out LOVING it, if you go in hating Shakespeare, you will probably also come out loving it... or at the very least appreciating it and liking it. I've never had a professor more enthusiastic about his/her subject. Granted, he is also incredibly intimidating in class, and when you hand in your papers, he'll pick them apart relentlessly, but I don't think I have learned as much or grown as a student more than in his class.

Dec 2004

I had heard that Shapiro was the better of our Shakespeare professors and as it turned out, that was not saying much. Shapiro is clearly a very intelligent man, but I felt that he spent the majority of this course intimidating his students - telling us how incapable we were of making intelligent comments and then warning us of how unbearably difficult the exams and the paper were going to be. His aim, of course, was to make us work hard, but for goodness sakes, we were a class of 80 Columbia College seniors - surely we were above this sort of infantile 'tough love' approach. The sad thing is that it would have been a great class if he hadn't been so condescending through the whole thing. Ultimately, his theatrical intimidations and his patronizing talk got in the way of his teaching, which is a shame, because it would have been a really good class without all the air.

Dec 2004

I LOVE PROFESSOR PLATT! He is absolutely brilliant, intelligent, witty, and engaging. If you get a chance to take his class, do it; because you will learn to appreciate Shakespeare's works in a completely new way. While Professor Platt's lectures can sometimes get dry, the moment he gets to analyzing the text of the plays, his passion shines through. Furthermore, he involves the entire class in readings of the plays, and as another reviewer wrote, he NEVER puts anyone down for his/her ideas. Even if an idea seems a bit far-fetched, he finds a way to bring it back to the discussion and to tie it to the intent of the passage or play. His exams are very fair, including only ID's that were discussed in class; and the grading of the timed essays was very generous. The two papers were also fairly graded, with positive remarks and constructive criticism. I am not an English major, but I am seriously considering signing up for Shakespeare II because Shakespeare I was so wonderful. Take this class! :o) Oh, and if you need any further proof that the man is brilliant, consider this: on the first day of class, there were well over 200 people who showed up for the lecture (some of whom were sitting in the hall because there wasn't enough space in the classroom). Professor Platt truly rocks :o)!

Dec 2004

Beware: it's at 9am. But Platt is such a wonderfully engaging lecturer, and such a physically expressive guy, that it really won't matter that much. The reading load is on the heavier side (one play a week) but dude it's SHAKESPEARE deal with it. What did you expect? Overall, great class. Highly recommend it. He picks favorites which is annoying, but he knows his Shakespeare and he'll get you to love even the weaker plays.

Dec 2004

On the first day of his Titus Andronicus lecture, Shapiro cradled a bookbag (which was supposed to be Aaron's baby) in his arms, paused, and then held it in the air above his head. Which do you like better, he asked? There are many interpretations of Shakespeare's plays and Shapiro shows us that there are no easy answers. He is one of the most passionate professors I have encountered--his stories about being inspired by London theater make this clear (if you haven't already been convinced by the enthusiasm he shows during class.) Yes, he asks questions and calls on students at random, which is intimidating in a 70 person lecture, but he is just trying to prove to us that we can't just sit and mindlessly absorb Shakespeare--it takes work. And he is one of the few professors I've encountered who actually seems to want to teach and is willing to work himself. He wouldn't even give us contact info for the TAs because he said there's no reason to meet with them when we can meet with him. He personally grades all of the Hamlet papers with comments throughout (on both material and writing style), and an additional page of comments at the end. He even stayed after the final to individually read everyone his comments (his handwriting is atrocious). For a well-renowned, full professor, this kind of attention is, unfortunately, pretty rare. The material is fairly introductory, but it doesn't matter. The paper is an unbelievably challenging assignment and you'll feel a real sense of accomplishment when you finish it. And Shapiro is, of course, so entertaining that you might just forget to drink your coffee. If you are a junior or senior English major, take this course.

Nov 2004

I agree with a previous reviewer that Shapiro's lectures are pretty lightweight, which is not a criticism because Shakespeare is thematically quite transparent to begin with. Typically, a Shapiro lecture confirms and nuances your own gut reaction to a play (indeed that's what he solicits in class), putting some of the themes that you have identified in historical and biographical context. His overarching argument is that Shakespeare's take on these themes is more ambivalent than subsequent commentators liked to think. This is a good thing to keep in mind, and after a few lectures you should get the hang of it and start looking at Shakespeare's language with vigilance. Having seen a Shakespeare play realized on stage, I understand how different (and better, in my opinion) that is than reading. So I don't think his acting is a waste of time. Overall, even though this class may not blow you away with brilliance, this is a good introduction to Shakespeare and more than sufficient for most casual reader's purposes. I enjoy Shapiro's dynamicism, but most heartening is his passion for the material and for teaching. He loves Shakespeare and theater, and he wants us to love it too. That as a full professor he teaches two undergraduate courses per semester shows his devotion to undergraduates. If he seems "abrasive" in class, that is his way of keeping us alert. If you talk to him during his office hours, you realize he is the kindest professor imaginable. I have a lot of respect of him as a person and as a teacher.

Apr 2004

ok yes, the man is funny. if i wanted stand-up comedy, however, i'd go to a club, at night, that offered stand-up comedy, buy a nice drink, and have a pleasant hour or two. as it is, i got up at 9 am to go to an ENGLISH class about SHAKESPEARE. it would be good if someone could remind professor kastan about that. he spends the first 45 minutes of class doing straight stand-up. the stories have no relationship to the subject. then he talks about the material - but only sort of. kastan freely admits on the first day that he doesn't really prepare for lectures - he just talks about interesting things about the text as they occur to him. what that means is that he makes a number of random comments. some of them are interesting. some of them are even insightful. none of them gives one any kind of insight into the work as a whole, provides a new reading of a text, or offers any serious analysis. this class was one of the single biggest disappointments of my time at columbia, i didn't learn a damn thing.

Dec 2003

One of the more enjoyable classes I've had at this school. Shapiro's not much on close reading, but he makes you appreciate the plays and understand them on a larger scale. He's also got a great sense of humor, and he keeps things moving. Even though it was at 9:00, I didn't fall asleep once, something that can't be said for my other classes.

Dec 2003

This course was easily the most entertaining English course I've ever taken at Columbia, and it's really all due to Prof. Shapiro. His flair for showmanship is remarkable, and he presents brilliantly. It's impossible to sleep through one of his classes, even though this semester's Shakespeare was scheduled for nine in the morning. This is a fantastic class for people who like to speak their minds, because you'll get the opportunity to say something in this class whether you want to or not. Heh. Beware, though -- Shapiro's a quick draw, verbally speaking. If you can't back up what you're trying to say, or if you're just trying for brownie points with impressive-sounding crap, it's not going to fly. Shapiro won't settle for less than your best effort, in class or in papers. But that's ok, because by the end of the class, that's exactly what you'll want to give him.

Mar 2003

Professor Prescott is nice and this is a good class to take. I'm not an english major and just wanted to learn a little shakespeare. Her lectures are pretty relaxed and she can be quite funny. You read about 1 play for every 2 classes. I recommend keeping up with the reading(although I don't think most people did) and also reading a summary of each play, to make sure you pick up on everything. The first lecture each week was background info, the second was talking about the play.

Dec 2002

really interesting lecturer. He focuses more on the historical context of Shakespeare than the text itself, sometimes you don't even have to open the text in class. But he's funny, and knows his stuff. The list of plays you read are great!

Feb 2002

Professor Kastan is one of the best teachers I have ever had. First of all, he is funny as hell- he told some really great stories over the course of the semester. (One about an English canary, or "budgy," is a classic.) His lectures are absolutely fascinating. He has extremely interesting things to say about each play. The intellectual stimulation was worth getting up at 9. He's also open to office hours conversation about stuff. If you don't love Shakespeare, Kastan will inspire you to.

Feb 2002

I really do not understand the hype about David Kastan. I found his lectures tangential, inconclusive and often dull. He offers little if any insight as to the themes of each play and seems uninterested in any sort of character intricacies. Kastan's lecture methodology seems to be to adopt one particular reading of a play, and then explain why it is the end-all interpretation. To his benefit, excepting the ridiculous midterm which he should be ashamed of assigning, the class is a joke work wise and a very easy A/A-.

Jan 2002

Professor Kastan at first drives you nuts by dropping names worse than an nouve-riche social climber at a political fundraiser. I don't think we made two classes without mentioning someone famous he was in contact with in some capacity. On the otherhand, the stories make entertaining fodder at 9am, and keep you awake. He's enjoyable if you can handle light sarcasm and heavy wit early. Someone should really haul in the Englsih department for making good classes so inaccessable. Anyway, it's a fairly straightforward English lecture course, with a take home midterm, a comparative paper, and a final that's open book. He states in the first class that the TA's do all the grading, but the lectures are really enjoyable, because even the most experienced Shakespearean will learn something new and fun. Avoid walking in late, and NEVER leave in the middle of class, or he will single you out. Bring him coffee, he likes that, if you want to kiss up. I recommend it, especially for English majors.

Jan 2002

Simply fabulous. To be honest, he was my "second choice Shakespeare professor", behind the famed James Shapiro. But when I learned that Shapiro would be on leave for 2001-2002, I took Kastan's class instead and was immediately ashamed of myself for slighting him initially. He is absolutely wonderful -- funny, irreverent (his endless jokes about Shapiro are hilarious), and brilliant. Yes, his assignments are a little off-kilter, but to be honest, I think they're fun. There is a certain kind of satisfaction that can be had from finding out exactly how wide the stage at the Globe Theatre is or how much it cost to go to a play in the 1600s. Definitely sign up for any Shakespeare class that Kastan teaches. You won't be disappointed.

Jan 2002

Kastan is everything one imagines a university English professor to be like. He's witty, funny, charming, brilliant, wears tweed, has a beard. He's also suprisingly accessible for a big wig. His lectures are both interesting, full of jokes and anecdotes, and informative. He puts particular emphasis on the historical context of Shakespeare's plays. Even if you're not an English major take this class! You won't regret it.

Nov 2001

Not a hard class if you can wake up for it at 9 am. The classes are relatively unimportant if you can follow with the reading. Kastan at times seems full of himself, yet knows a lot on the subject. If you fall behind on a reading, you can always look on sparknotes.