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HONR290: Making Shakespeare: Home

Reception History Assignment

Second quarto

Second Quarto (1619)
Image Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

An important part of understanding the development of Shakespeare's reputation is learning the stage history of his plays. The Merchant of Venice has a particularly interesting performance history from the 18th century onward. In order to fully appreciate this, you will be broken into four groups, each of which will look at a different moment in the stage history of this play from the 1740s to the present day. Your goal is to reconstruct a particular performance (or set of performances) using primary and secondary sources that show why your topic is a crucial part of the play's history. You will then present this information in an engaging and professional manner. You will be graded on both the substance and style of your presentation.

Here are some questions to consider as you go about your research: What is the historical context for your performance? How did this performance break with tradition or establish a new interpretive direction? What was the impact of this performance? What was the contemporary reaction? Why is it especially important that we remember this moment?

Your ten-minute presentation should be supported with visual material. Each member of the group should have a speaking role. In addition to the presentation itself, each group must hand in a bibliography, and each individual group member must submit a 1-page reflection that describes the most significant thing you learned and the biggest challenge you faced while working on this assignment.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the evidence of history. They are first-hand accounts created by participants or observers of an event or period of time.

There are many kinds of primary sources, including:

  • texts (plays, diaries, letters, newspaper articles, autobiographies),
  • images (paintings, advertisements, posters, photographs, maps),
  • artifacts (memorabilia, costumes, playbills), and
  • audio/visual materials (songs, films, oral histories, interviews).

Many primary sources you will encounter have been reproduced in print publications or transferred into a digital format, but you may encounter some in their original forms when you work with Special Collections.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are interpretations, analyses, and evaluations of events, people, works, and topics. They are created after the fact, based on an examination of primary sources and other secondary sources. In history and the humanities, they are generally books and scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles.

Tertiary sources are reference works like encyclopedias or dictionaries that provides a broad introduction or overview of a topic. A few are included below.

Getting Started with Reference Sources

Subject Librarian

Aimee Gee's picture
Aimee Gee
English & American Literature Librarian
Reference & Instructional Services Dept.
(302) 831-6159
Schedule a meeting with me.

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