Tuesday, January 17, 2017

For Thursday: Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, Scenes 1-8 (pp.347-373)

Answer TWO of the following in a short paragraph (at least a few sentences, and cite specific examples from the text when possible):

Q1: One of the hallmarks of Elizabethan theater is blank verse, which is unrhymed lines that follow a strict meter, usually iambic pentameter: ten syllables, with an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one (an ‘iamb’ is a syllable, and there are five unaccented and five accented—hence, penta + meter). Typically, the upper classes speak blank verse, while the lower classes speak prose (that is, lines without meter). However, this is not always the case. Discuss a short passage where the language changes from poetry to prose (or the reverse); why do you think Marlowe does this and how might his audience “hear” this change? What would it tell them about the characters and/or their dialogue in this moment?

Q2: Many modern critics (and audiences) have complained about the comic scenes in the play between Robin and Wagner, finding them too silly or inconsequential compared to the serious business of Faustus and Mephistopheles. However, why might these scenes be very effective in performance? What do they add to the play—or allow to the audience to see/experience between the more literary moments? (you might also consider if this sounds like another writer, or if this could still be Marlowe, just writing to the Groundlings in the audience).

Q3: Faustus is given ample opportunity in these scenes to save his soul, and even Mephistopheles warns him, “But Faustus, I am an instance to prove the contrary,/For I am damned and am now in hell” (Scene 5). What makes him continually deny the existence of hell and damnation, and plunge headlong into a bargain with Lucifer? Why does he think he’s getting the better end of this bargain? Or does he simply believe he can outwit Lucifer and Mephistopheles?

Q4: Discuss a passage which seems to work better (or as good) on the page as on the stage. Why might being able to read and study this passage help the reader more than if he/she just saw it performed on stage? Why might this passage remind us that Marlowe was first and foremost a poet, and wanted his words to be heard/read rather than just performed and mimed? How might this passage help us understand why Dr. Faustus survived the thousands upon thousands of plays that were performed in this period—most of which were lost and forgotten?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

For Tuesday: Hackett, Chapter 2: "How Plays Were Made"

For Tuesday's class, be sure to read Chapter 2 from English Renaissance Drama; I won't give you any questions on the blog yet, but I will give you an in-class writing response when you arrive based on this material. Read it carefully and consider some of the ideas we've already discussed about the 'behind the scenes' aspects of Shakespeare's art. Some ideas to consider are:

* How is London itself a co-author of the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries? What might these plays have come to light in London rather than Paris or Rome? What made London so unique?

* What made the playhouses different from modern performance spaces? How were they uniquely suited for this kind of drama--and these kind of audiences?

* What other practical or pragmatic issues influenced the plays and the kinds of stories they told? In other words, how did the world outside follow the audience into the theater (and onto the stage)?

* What was the reality of the actor's life in the late 16th century? What did it take to be an actor and why might modern actors find it difficult to cope with this regime?

* How did poets write plays for the 16th/17th century theatre? What were the prime considerations? The practical concerns? The artistic rules? 

* Related to the above, how did the very 'non-literary' nature of play composition create headaches for future editors and scholars? Why is it hard to simply perform a Shakespeare play in some instances? 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Welcome to the Course!

Welcome to English 4543, "Shakespeare and Co.," also known more prosaically as Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. 

“The playhouses were a wonder of Renaissance London, and a new technology for imagining the world.” (Hackett, English Renaissance Drama)

The goal of this course is to explore the cultural and historical world that gave birth to Shakespeare's plays, Shakespeare himself, and the golden age of English theater. However, this really isn't just a class about Shakespeare, but rather, a class that examines him as merely one aspect (perhaps the most attractive aspect) of a brilliant tapestry full of actors, plays, kings, queens, and other less savory characters. In teaching this course, I want to discuss why Elizabeth's reign seemed to usher in a universal love of theater, and how this relatively new art form came to symbolize Elizabethan (and later Jacobean) society. In exploring this, we'll learn why a handful of playwrights became immortalized while hundreds of others were performed and forgotten. What makes great art at this time--or at any time? And how could someone like Shakespeare write so effectively for his own time, yet still remain so appealing and universal hundreds of years later? 

Naturally, we'll talk a lot about the theater, and what makes a play a distinct art form from a poem or a novel. What are its strengths and limitations? Why, in some ways, is a play the ultimate time capsule to bequeath to future generations? 

Be sure to buy all of the following books for class as soon as possible--we'll start reading next week!  

REQUIRED TEXTS: (a-b) Marlowe, Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta (in Penguin, Complete Plays or other edition); (c-d) Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice (Folger or other edition); (e-f) Middleton, A Chaste Maid at Cheapside and The Revenger’s Tragedy (Penguin Five Plays or other edition);
(g) Hackett, English Renaissance Drama 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Final Exam: A Defense of Shakespeare

Final Exam Paper: A Defense of Shakespeare

For your Final Exam paper, you’re going to revise your essential thesis/approach from your Mid-Term paper with the following twist: imagine you are a professor, director, or actor who is giving a talk to an English department at University X, which is contemplating dropping Shakespeare from the curriculum.  In many universities (including ECU), the so-called “Great Books” of Canon of English Literature is under fire.  As Siobhan Kilfeather, formerly of Columbia University, wrote,

You’ve got people of mixed ability...many of them going into the sciences, and they’re asked to take a required lit course.  This is very difficult material to be read quickly...They’re all being asked to make a very real stretch when many of them can’t read a modern novel easily...people had substantial difficulties reading the texts; they couldn’t sort out the information and handle it: what it means for books to come from different periods; what it meant to move from one culture to another.  It was water off a duck’s back” (Denby, 203). 

In other words, since students have no background in reading Shakespeare (or other ‘old’ writers), we can’t possibly teach them how to do it.  They can’t relate, they can’t read it on a sophisticated level, so Shakespeare—and other canonical writers—should be abandoned for more ‘practical’ reading/writing skills.  After all, you don’t need Shakespeare to learn organic chemistry!  So your job is to show why Shakespeare is global in scope and connects to modern ideas, characters, or issues through his use of thematic connections.  Whatever you wrote about in your Mid-Term paper is the ‘frame’ for your discussion.  Revise, expand, or re-work your mid-term paper as a talk to a very specific audience (skeptical college professors) using evidence from the plays, adaptations, and critical sources.  Consider how watching Chinese opera and reading modern-day adaptations of The Tempest might play into your discussion.  How does your theme ‘translate’ in these versions, and why do we still need to know the original to see this?  

REMEMBER, you do not need to write a new paper here.  Use your Mid-Term as the “bones” of the paper, but focus it by considering your audience, and how you can prove that Shakespeare is a global, rather than a historical, author.  Try to respond to the fears of people like Dr. Kilfeather (above), who truly feel that Shakespeare is a lost art—and somewhat irrelevant to the needs of the modern undergraduate.

  • 7-8 pages at least (but you can certainly do more)
  • Should discuss at least 2 plays from class
  • Should reference/discuss at least 2 adaptations to broaden your discussion: a traditional film, a ‘global’ adaptation (Chinese Opera, foreign language Shakespeare, etc.), graphic novel, or related literary work (one of the Tempest poems, A Tempest, etc.)
  • Should use 2-3 critical articles to support your ideas, ideally from the Norton editions

Friday, April 18, 2014

Group Presentations Next Week!

It's finally here--the moment you've all been waiting for!  You get to present on the play of your dreams to audience of gregarious groundlings!  Please sign up for one of the times below--first come, first serve--or e-mail me with  your request.  I will discuss the complete schedule on Monday.  Remember that at least 2 groups can present each day, but no more than that.

W 23: No Class--Work on Presentations
F 25: Twelfth Night; Much Ado About Nothing

M 28: Titus Andronicus; Othello
W 30: Macbeth; Hamlet
F 2:  Taming of the Shrew; Romeo and Juliet; A Midsummer Night's Dream

* We won't be able to do 3 presentations in one day, so one of these will probably have to finish on our Final Exam day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

For Friday: Cesaire, A Tempest, Act III

Answer the following question as a Comment below:

C├ęsaire reduces most of Acts III-V of The Tempest to a duel between Caliban and Prospero (his Act III).  Far from fleeing the stage and promising to be good, as he does in Shakespeare’s version, Caliban has a tremendous speech (pp.61-62) which changes the entire scope of the play.  Why does Prospero decide not to leave the island, and what do you make of the line, “Well, I hate you as well!/for it is you who have made me/doubt myself for the first time” (63).  How has Caliban challenged Prospero’s power in this Act, and is Prospero “beaten” by the end of the play?  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

For Wednesday: Cesaire, A Tempest, Acts I and II

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Cesaire’s language (in translation, at least) hews close to Shakespeare’s original, though he is happy to modernize expressions and ideas to make them closer to the audience’s experience.  Where do you feel the play is most successful in modernizing (without changing the essentials) of The Tempest?  Why does this work?  How might it help us read/understand this scene in the original? 

2. How does Cesaire re-write (or expand upon) the relationship between Ariel and Caliban?  Why does he give them a scene alone, whereas in the actual play they are always in the presence of Prospero or Stephano/Trinculo?  Do you feel this is a plausible reconstruction, or is this a full-scale re-interpretation by Cesaire? 

3. Discuss the scene between Prospero and Caliban in Act I, Scene 2.  How does he make the characters and relationship between the two less ambiguous?  Additionally, how does this scene betray the author's own identity and politics?  

4. How does A Tempest compare to the other Shakespeare inspired poetry we read this week?   What ideas/interpretations does Cesaire offer that might have echoes in Browning’s poetry—or Hughes’ (for example)?  What might this say about how the late 19th/early 20th century experiences The Tempest?