Short-term Visitor

“Branches Springing from One Root”: New Lectures in Evolution, Incorporating Themes from Shakespeare’s Plays

PI(s): Rachel C Rodman (None)
Start Date: 17-Sep-2012
End Date: 14-Dec-2012
Keywords: education, macroevolution, phylogenetics, adaptation, paleontology

This project experiments with new ways to present concepts in evolution, using events and quotations from Shakespeare’s plays. Work is divided into three sections, each consisting of a factual presentation, framed with play references. Plot summaries, recast in evolutionary terms, serve as introductions. Within this framework, Richard II becomes a struggle for supremacy, culminating in the “extinction” of one royal line. In a similar spirit, The Tempest is cast as a series of transitions between aquatic and terrestrial environments, enabled by adaptations. In the same way, The Taming of the Shrew is described as a human effort to obtain a domesticated variant, starting from a “wild” precursor. These links between biology and Shakespeare structure novel expositions, devoted to three topics: (1) major themes in macroevolution, including speciation, extinction, and common descent, (2) the evolution of land vertebrates, as contrasted, later, with the evolution of sea mammals, and (3) the evolution of pets and agricultural organisms, as driven by human selection. Project research will be summarized in three 1-hour presentations, which will serve both as public lectures and as undergraduate modules. The work will also contribute to a general education project, “Biology through Shakespeare,” aimed at developing a range of introductory life sciences lectures, linked to Shakespeare’s complete plays.