Tuesday, April 18, 2017


INTRO: For your final exam, instead of giving you a comprehensive test over the various plays and authors we’ve read in class, I want you to apply your knowledge to a more modern branch of drama. As we’ve seen, even the most popular drama becomes dated when the allusions, genres, and characters fall out of fashion. To understand what made audiences laugh in ages past, it requires a bit of scholarly translation via footnotes and other editorial comments to help us “see” this world as clearly as the groundlings. However, the same will be true of our own entertainment. In one or two hundred years, students will dread taking Introduction to 20th Century Sitcoms since the language is “so hard,” and the situations “totally confusing.” The writers of Seinfeld or Friends could be seen as modern-day Shakespeares and Middletons, their scripts lovingly preserved in the pages of Penguin Classics and the subject of learned dissertations.

ASSIGNMENT (Part 1): to help future scholars appreciate the comedy of yesteryear, I want you to pick a short scene from a relatively recent comedic television show or movie (from the past 20 years at least, but the more recent the better) and add at least 3-4 double spaced pages of footnotes to it (consider those you see in Middleton’s books, or our Shakespeare and Marlowe volumes). These footnotes should gloss phrases that might not survive the ages, or allusions to other cultural practices or examples of popular culture. Try to imagine the ‘head scratching’ moments that your great-grandchildren will have when reading or watching this show. What knowledge is required to make the scene funny—to help people laugh? Remember, comedy is often entirely situational: if you don’t get the allusions and the references, the jokes simply aren’t funny.

ASSIGNMENT (Part 2): Additionally, I want you to add a 2-3 page double spaced introduction to your footnotes, explaining the cultural significance of this show/movie to its period. Why did people like it? Who watched it? Why did it matter? What made it “great”? Help future audiences understand its place in the literary firmament. Why are the writers of this show/film the next generation of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Middleton?


  • 3-4 pages of footnotes and 2-3 pages of Introduction
  • Quote examples from the show/movie in your footnotes so we can understand what you’re glossing. Try to help your future audience as much as possible get the jokes/references.
  • Have fun! Look at the footnotes in our Penguin and Folger books and try to write accordingly. Write about popular culture seriously.
  • DUE ON OUR FINAL EXAM DAY: Thursday, May 4th by 5pm  

Friday, April 14, 2017

For Tuesday: Middleton, A Chaste Maid at Cheapside, Acts 3 and 4

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: If we squint, we can almost see the outline of Romeo and Juliet in this play: parents trying to marry a daughter off to a suitor she doesn’t love, while she meets her real lover in secret (and tries to run away with him); the daughter is threatened by her own parents, the lover fights a duel, and a lot of bawdy humor is thrown about. Though the plots are superficially similar, how does Middleton make sure his plays feels and ‘plays’ differently? What keeps this play a comedy despite events and circumstances which easily could—and maybe should—be tragic?

Q2: When we were reading The Revenger’s Tragedy, I asked about the play’s morality, and I want to ask them same question of this play: what seems to be acceptable ethical behavior in this play/society? How can people act and what can they get away with that the audience is supposed to take offense at? How does Middleton make sure we understand when he disagrees with the morality of his characters? How do we know to laugh (or sneer) at them?

Q3: When Maudline Yellowhammer’s son, Tim, arrives back at home from Cambridge, he insists his name is “Timothius,” and he tries to speak Latin as often as possible. Though Middleton (as a playwright/poet) is not against learning or Latin, how does he satirize Tim’s character? What might he represent about the Yellowhammers in general? You might also think about modern parallels to his character in TV/film.

Q4: One of the more humorous scenes in the play is also one of the least important to the plot: Act Three, Scene 2, when all the Gossips and Puritans converge on Mistress Allwit and her newborn child. What is the significance of this scene, and why might this have been written specifically to delight his audience? What might make them laugh or nod with recognition throughout the scene?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

For Thursday: Middleton. A Chaste Maid at Cheapside, Acts 1 and 2

General Synopsis of the Play, from Shakespeare's Globe: 

Under the Lenten laws, the buying and seeling of all flesh is forbidden. The avaricious goldsmith, Yellowhammer and his wife, Maudlin, plan to marry their daughter, Moll, to the decadent knight, Sir Walter Whorehound and their son Tim to the knight's supposed Welsh cousin. However, Moll is in love with Touchwood Junior and Tim seems too naive to wed the Welsh gentlewoman.

Sir Walter, meanwhile, has secretly sired six children by the wife of Jack Allwit, who is very happy to earn an easy living from the knight. Mistress Allwit is about to give birth to her seventh child. Sir Walter's cousin, Sir Oliver Kix, is unable to have children. The cousin knights are competing for an inheritance that will pass to the first child, born within marriage, that either manages to produce. Promiscuous Touchwood Senior, elder brother of Moll Yellowhammer's suitor, to made aware of the Kix's situation and offers them a remedy - at great expense - that he guarantees will end their childless plight...

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: The play takes place at Cheapside, once a famous marketplace in London; this allows us to see various classes mixing in one place (much like a theater) with all the comedy inherent in this mixing of classes. Discuss a scene where we see Middleton satirizing a specific class or type of person in a way that might have delighted Londoners (who all knew these types--and some of whom WERE these types).Consider some of the types of people who mingle in the first two acts: Puritans, goldsmiths, maids, gentlemen, promoters, gossips, etc.

Q2: Unlike all of the previous plays in class, A Chaste Maid at Cheapside is an almost documentary account of the people who really lived in London just outside the theater doors. What strange customs or realities does the play reveal about early 17th century England that we could never otherwise see or know? What makes this such a strange, energetic environment?

Q3: Comedies require more translation than most plays, since most of the humor is topical and easily lost on a modern audience. Discuss a brief scene where you were completely lost without the footnotes, and show how the footnotes help restore some of the sense and humor to the play. Or, what are you still confused about? Why doesn't the scene 'play' in your mind?

Q4: In a play about the lower strata of society, the play has surprisingly little prose (though it often does lapse into prose). Why do you think Middleton had some many of his characters, even the Wench in Act 2, Scene 1, speak in verse? Discuss a brief scene where the use of verse is important to what is being said and who is saying it. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

For Thursday: Hackett, Chapter 8, “Playing With Gender” (pp.164-188)

From the Film Stage Beauty: Ned Kynaston, one of the last male actors to specialize in female roles

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Hackett writes that “when a French troupe including actresses attempted to perform in London in 1629 they were ‘hissed, hooted, and pippin-pelted from teh stage’” (177). If women were allowed to act in private performances, and it wasn’t technically against the law for women to act, why would the public not accept it? What was the perceived danger of women acting on-stage for an audience (an audience, that Hackett reminds us, had many women in it)?

Q2: What does Hackett mean by the statement: “the presentation of a female character dressed as a boy can set up a distinction between a public and a private self, an outer male self which is merely a performance and an inner female self which is implied to be in some sense ‘true’” (175)? What might this help us understand about Renaissance ideas in England about gender roles and sexuality itself?

Q3: According to Hackett, how did many playwrights (and notably Shakespeare) play on the visual appearance of a boy playing a woman? How did it create another level of drama in the play itself—and how did people seem to react to this paradoxical casting (especially if an 11 year-old boy was playing a pregnant housewife)?

Q4: Why do you think many of the first female dramatists—women such as Mary Sidney, Lady Jane Lumley, and Lady Elizabeth Cary—never tried to write directly for the stage, but instead contented themselves with ‘closet dramas’? How might the subjects and characters of their plays reveal the conflict of being a woman and a writer? Also, what makes them stand apart from their male counterparts? 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

For Tuesday: Act V of The Revenger's Tragedy

Remember to read Act V of The Revenger's Tragedy for Tuesday...we'll have an in-class writing on the lurid events therein. Also, be sure to see the Paper #2 assignment below if you missed class or misplaced your handout. 

Also, if you missed class on Thursday, I played a You Tube video of Hamlet showing all the scenes with Ophelia (and 4 different versions at that!) as a way to discuss the treatment of women in The Revenger's Tragedy. Feel free to watch below or watch again: 

Short Paper #2: Staging Your Revenge

“Are you so barbarous to set iron nipples/Upon the breast that gave you suck?” (Gratiana, Act 4, Scene 4)

As the quote above suggests, The Revenger’s Tragedy is very much a work of its time, and its language and allegorical characters might confuse or disturb modern audiences. And yet, the revenge tragedy has many contemporary cousins (The Godfather, etc.) and would not be out place in any movie or TV show. The trick is to restage it in such a way that we could see the universal themes and ideas, without getting lost in the trickier innuendos or conventions of 17th century society.

PROMPT: With this in mind, how could you translate the play into a modern genre and/or setting to help audiences appreciate the dark humor and vicious satire of the play? I want you to write a short paper that suggests a modern way to stage this play that would help people go, “oh, I see what this is about,” or “oh, I know that character!” Middleton made his characters allegorical, each one representing a specific vice or virtue; consider how you might do the same with characters or setting we immediately respond to. Could you set The Revenger’s Tragedy in space—a new version of Alien or Terminator? Or is this a modern hip hop musical? (the rhymes might work!). Or perhaps it’s the latest Bravo reality show (The Housewives of Venice County)?

APPROACH: Choose TWO PASSAGES to briefly close read as a way of illustrating your basic approach. So, for example, if you decide that The Revenger’s Tragedy would make sense as a prequel to Star Wars, show us how you would stage two specific passages: how does your staging/genre help us understand the characters, the action, the satire/humor, and the lines themselves. You don’t have to do much, but give us a few details that suggest your general approach. Pretend that you’re making a case for this staging to potential investors: why would this work and make money and not be simply nuts? You might also want to explain what a revenge tragedy is to help justify your approach—so use Chapter 6 from Hackett as your secondary source.


  • 4-5 pages, double spaced
  • Close reading from two specific scenes
  • Use of Hackett as a secondary source, either Ch.6 or other (quote!)
  • Quote and cite using MLA format throughout
  • Due Thursday, April 6th by 5pm (we do have class that day!) 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

For Thursday: Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Acts Three and Four

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Despite all the parody and gore, a revenge tragedy also serves as a wake-up call to its audiences, many of whom were guilty of the same sins portrayed on-stage. One way the play does this is through the common Renaissance conceit of the memento mori (see Hackett in Chapter 6). Discuss a scene that seems to employ this literary device: how might it affect the audience, given the context of the scene itself?

Q2: Hackett talks throughout Chapter 6 of the “aesthetics of death,” which basically means how death becomes an art form in revenge tragedies. Whether or not death is ever “beautiful,” it can still be used for artistic effect—creating what Hackett calls “death by art.” What kind of artful deaths appear in these acts, and what makes them satisfying, aesthetically pleasing, or luridly grotesque?

Q3: Reflecting upon Lussurioso’s villany, Vindice exclaims, “O thou almighty Patience! ‘Tis my wonder/That such a fellow, impudent and wicked,/Should not be cloven as he stood,/Or with a secret wind burst open!/Is there no thunder left, or is’t kept up/In stock for heavier vengeance?” (140). Does Vindice truly seem to believe in this kind of justice, where good is rewarded and evil punished? Or does he—like many other characters in the play—seem to operate in a moral vacuum, where there are no punishments or reward for anything except those you make yourself? Is there any true sense of morality or religion in the play (and if not, is that why people enjoyed it?).

Q4: Like Hamlet, this play constantly subjects women to tests (and threats) of faith and virtue: Castiza is tested by Vindice, Gratiana is tested by Vindice, Gratiana is assaulted by Vindice and Hippolito, and Castiza tests her own mother. Is this part of the game of masks and disguises of the play...or does this suggest a concern of Middleton’s with women’s virtue—or lack thereof? Does Middleton assume that most women are complicit with the corruption and lusts of an evil court (or are even the cause of it)?