Comedy? Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice

Course Dates: 
6 weeks: January 11, 18, 25 February 1, 8, 15, 2018
Thursdays, 2-4 p.m.
Mario A. DiCesare
Course Catalogs: 
2018 Winter

Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice strain the usual definition of comedy, with its emphasis on the happy ending. Twelfth Night is a sunny, lively and often funny play, its delight dampened occasionally by Malvolio's baleful presence. The play is full of hilarious exploits and a happy ending which even Malvolio's nastiness cannot spoil. Conversely, The Merchant of Venice verges on tragedy. While it has an odd kind of happy ending, there is a central problem: how to cope with the nature and trials of Shylock. That Shylock is finally malevolent is clear, but it is also clear that the Christian world in which he must labor is a hostile, even malicious world in which, it may be argued, even Portia, beloved of almost all commentators, exercises an offensive meanness. We will complement our class discussions with a film of each play. Required texts: The Folger Shakespeare Library Twelfth Night, ed. by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, ISBN-13: 978-0743484961; The Folger Shakespeare Library The Merchant of Venice, ed. by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, ISBN-13: 978-0808508953.

Course Outline

Mario A. DiCesare ( has been teaching at College for Seniors almost every term since 1998. He received his doctorate from Columbia University in 1960 and has more than 40 years of university teaching experience. His major interests are Shakespeare, 17th century poetry and modern literature—particularly James Joyce and William Faulkner.