Professor Steve Monte is a literature scholar who specializes in Shakespeare and the Renaissance. He also loves theater, opera and music and shares his combined passions in a popular course called Shakespeare and Musical Adaptations of Shakespeare at Macaulay Honors College.
“This is a dream course for me,” says Monte. “In my research and writing, I mostly focus on understanding Shakespeare in his own time as a poet and a playwright; but in this course, I feel that I am being both a scholar and a fan.”
The works of William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616, have inspired countless adaptations worldwide, with his themes and characters appearing in every known art form. Scholars have identified over 20,000 pieces of music drawn from his work—not bad for someone with no known musical talent.
For Macaulay students, this creates a broad basis from which to study history, social systems, and even architecture in addition to music and literature. “Like the plays, the adaptations are stylistically diverse, encompassing both pop culture and high culture,” explains Monte. “From Shakespeare’s time to ours, there is a rich performance history to draw upon.”
New York City itself plays a role for experiencing musical Shakespeare. “The city offers regular opportunities to enjoy performances of adaptations, and this is a course that partly depends on seizing those opportunities.” Students in Monte’s course listen to music, watch movies, travel to performances, and hear from guest lecturers from fields of musicology and acting.
“In the classroom, approaching Shakespeare’s works as both historically specific and evolving through adaptation is exciting for everyone in the class, says Monte. “I am often delighted to find that juxtaposing the plays and the music generates new interpretations. Students make connections between works that I had never even considered.”