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)?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

For Tuesday: Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Acts 1 and 2

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Though The Revenger’s Tragedy is a revenge tragedy (like Titus, Hamlet, etc.) that deals with the serious consequences of revenge, most of the characters have allegorical names: Vindice (Revenge), Spurio (Spurious/Fake), Gratiana (Favor), Supervacuo (Superfluous/Irrelevant), etc. How does this affect how you read the play? If characters wear their intentions on their sleeve, how seriously can we take them? Does this make the play more comic (even if darkly comic)? Or does it suggest a religious allegory more in the line of Dr. Faustus?

Q2: As we saw in the clip from The Godfather, the act of revenge morally compromises those who seek it, forcing them to make a ‘deal with the devil’ which ends in blood. In the first two acts, how is Vindice slowly (or quckly?) compromising his morals to pursue his revenge? Why does he feel his vengeance is worth any price, even that of his soul (or other’s)?

Q3: Middleton is known for his cynicism and biting wit, which like Shakespeare is full of puns and double meanings (perhaps why they worked together on at least two plays). Discuss a short passage that highlights his language, and how this language characterizes the character(s) who speak it. You might also consider how he uses verse and/or prose in your passage.

Q4: In Vindice’s speech to his mother in Act Two, Scene One, he describes his sister as real estate: “I would raise my state upon her breast/And call her eyes my tenants; I would count/My yearly maintenance upon he cheeks,/Take coach upon her lip, and all her parts/should keep men after men and I would rise/In pleasure upon pleasure” (97). Other men in the play also use terms of buildings/architecture to describe women. Why do you think this is? How might this metaphor allow us to see the position of women in Jacobean society (under James I, Elizabeth’s successor)? Despite being more represented on stage, what did their characters and roles seem to entail?

Should Shakespeare Be Translated?

For some Spring Break reading (or future research), here's an article I wrote last year about the debate on translating Shakespeare. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival decided to commission new versions of the plays in 'modern' language. Needless to say, this inspired some debate about what it means to perform Shakespeare. I weighed in as well--and so might we, by the end of the semester! :) 

The questions for The Revenger's Tragedy should be posted soon--but read Acts 1 and 2 in the meantime. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mid-Term Paper (note the corrected date)

[NOTE: The reading for Tuesday is below this post] 

Mid-Term Paper: “The Question of Genre”
Shakespeare & Co.

YOU are the director for ECU’s upcoming production of The Jew of Malta or The Merchant of Venice (your choice). But a momentous decision lies before you: do you stage it as a comedy or a tragedy?  Your decision could completely change how the actors interpret the roles and lines, and what it means for the audience. Choose wisely...

OPTION #1 COMEDY: “The Merchant of Venice is a comedy. Comedies traditionally end in marriage, and on the way they examine the social networks in which marriage is involved...we may conclude that happiness is all the more precious for being hard-won, and all the more believable for the play’s acknowledgment that love is part of the traffic of the world” (Legatt, The Merchant of Venice: A Modern Perspective”)

Though both The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice deal with revenge, death, and stereotypes, it’s hard to take them completely seriously. Barabas is quick with one-liners and Marlowe constantly makes fun of even the most ghastly outcomes. Similarly, Shakespeare never makes the stakes too high for his characters, and even when Antonio is about to lose a pound of flesh, he’s rescued at the last minute. Not to mention the fact that in this play, Jessica, Shylock’s Daughter, gets married and escapes with her lover (not even Marlowe can allow that). So for this option, argue that one of these plays should be staged as a comedy, full of humor, high spirits, and fortuitous outcomes. While you don’t need to ignore the darker aspects, try to show us how the playwright balances them with a more optimistic or lighthearted viewpoint. Discuss how you would stage 2-3 scenes in the play and use close reading to show their comedic, rather than tragic, potential.

OPTION #2 TRAGEDY: “though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy, and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent comedian, yet I cannot but think it was designed tragically by the author. There appears in it such a deadly spirit of revenge, such a savage fierceness and fellness, and such a blood resignation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the style or characters of comedy” (Nicholas Rowe, 1709)

Though The Merchant of Venice is clearly a comedy (no one dies!), that doesn’t mean it’s still a comedy for us, particularly in our post-Holocaust and anti-immigration world. The humor of this play can be seen as quite mean-spirited, and the manner in which Shylock is debased and converted seems more tragic (even racist?) to modern ears. Similarly, The Jew of Malta for all its humor is full of death and revenge, with no marriages and nothing of a happy ending in sight. So for this option, discuss your reasons for staging one of the plays as a tragedy: define what a tragedy is, and examine how you would stage 2-3 scenes in the play and use close reading to show their tragic, rather than comedic, potential.


  • Definition: you must define comedy or tragedy according to a scholarly source (not Webster’s Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, Wikipedia, etc.)
  • Close Reading: You must examine 2-3 specific scenes in detail to support your reading
  • Sources: You should have at least 2-3 outside sources to assist you in your reading
  • Production: Try to use at least one prior production of the play as a reference (can be either a film or a stage production); this can count as one of your sources
  • Length: Should be at least 6-7 pages double spaced (though you can do more!)
  • Due date: THURSDAY, MARCH 9th BY 5pm

Friday, March 3, 2017

For Tuesday: Hackett, Chapter 6: "Revenge Tragedy"

Be sure to read all about the genre of Revenge Tragedy for Tuesday, even though you've already had a brief taste of it with Titus Andronicus. We'll have an in-class response when you arrive, but here are some ideas to consider:

* Why does Hackett suggest that such over-the-top gore and violence (shown on-stage, unlike the Greeks) could be therapeutic for the audience? Why on some level do we need to see violence enacted in art?

* Why is the Machiavel (the one we met in the Prologue to The Jew of Malta) such a recurring character in these plays? What anxieties might this reflect about Renaissance society and England's place in it?

* Why do you think revenge is one of the oldest subjects for drama (going back to the first plays by the Greeks)? What is so compelling or dramatic about the idea itself? How do the Elizabethan and Jacobean (the age under James I, who succeeded Elizabeth) put their own spin on this?

* Though there were many revenge tragedies in this period, what made the plays Hackett cites stand out? Based on these examples, what might be the recipe for a truly memorable revenge tragedy? Does Titus seem to share these characteristics?

* What role(s) do women play in revenge tragedies? Why might the age have become much more concerned with women, giving them major roles and even allowing them to become the star of the play, as in The Duchess of Malfi?  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

For Thursday: Chapter Eight, “From Comical to Tragical” from Gross, Shylock: A Legend and Its Legacy (p1992/handout) and Leggatt, “The Merchant of Venice: A Modern Perspective” (p.211)

[NOTE: If you missed class on Tuesday, please pick up the handout in the box on my door. You'll need it for the questions below and our discussion on Thursday.] 

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: How does Leggatt view the role of Shylock and the possibility of anti-Semitism in the play? Since he calls this play a “comedy,” how does he account for Shylock’s presence in such a comedy? What might he mean when he says, “these readings [sympathy for Shylock] are allowed rather than compelled by the text” (216)?

Q2: Related to the above, how does he view the role of Jessica in Act 5? Does she complicate or conform to the demands of comedy? What might he mean when he suggests that “Her uneasiness also makes a revealing contrast with Portia’s attitude to her disguise, and suggests there may be a parallel between the two women” (219)?

Q3: According to Gross’ essay, “From Comical to Tragical,” when did the tide begin to turn for reading The Merchant of Venice as more “Shylock’s tragedy” than “Portia’s comedy”? What did it take for audiences to begin to see the Shylock we know so well today? Does Gross suggest whether this is actually in the script, or it came from the actors’ imagination?

Q4: Often, other forms of literature can have a profound affect on how we read historical works, including Shakespeare. What role did Edgeworth’s novel, Harrington, play in shaping public perception of Shylock? How could a novel, which has nothing to do with the stage, somehow change our understanding of a theatrical performance? 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

For Those Interested: Attributing the Henry VI plays to Marlowe and Shakespeare

I've posted a link below to a podcast about recent computer scholarship that seems to authenticate Marlowe's hand in Shakespeare's early Henry VI plays, which are now being jointly credited to him. Needless to say, many are very resistant do seeing Shakespeare as a co-creator of anything, but the evidence continues to mount: http://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/christopher-marlowe-attribution-henry-vi

The questions for Tuesday's reading are posted below. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

For Tuesday: Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Acts 4 and 5

[Above: A clip from the trial scene (Act 4, Scene 1) of the 1974 Lawrence Olivier version of The Merchant of Venice] 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: The Christians spend most of Act 4, Scene 1 trying to convince Shylock to relent and show mercy of Antonio. What reasons does he offer for his refusal? Are his responses somewhat like Iago’s (the villain of Othello) who when asked why he framed Othello and his wife says “Demand me nothing: what I know I know./Never again shall I speak word.” Or does Shylock offer a more compelling argument for his cruelty?

Q2: Are we meant to feel sympathy for Shylock in Scene 1? While Shakespeare’s audience would have naturally cheered for Portia’s victory (this is a comedy, after all!), could Shakespeare have writing against the grain of audience expectations? Consider Shylock’s final words, “I am content,” and “I am not well.” Given his earlier confidence, are these comically brief...or concisely tragic?

Q3: Act 5 opens with an extended scene of love banter with Jessica and Lorenzo. Using the footnotes on the side, what makes their allusions to Cressida, Dido, and Thisbe somewhat surprising? How might this scene suggest Jessica’s state of mind after fleeing her father’s house and finding herself in the Christian world of Belmont? Is this ‘happily ever after’ for her, or is she constantly looking over her shoulder?

Q4: In Act 4, Scene 1, Portia tells Shylock, “in the course of justice none of us/should see salvation” (155). Does she offer the same compassion to her own husband in Act 5? What do you make of her bizarre interrogation of Bassanio, which culminates in her claming she has slept with Balthazar, the lawyer, to obtain the ring? Does she feel betrayed by Bassanio...or is she toying with him the same way she toyed with Shylock during the trial scene?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

For Thursday: Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Acts 2 & 3

Read Acts Two and Three for Thursday; we'll do an in-class writing based on one of the ideas below:

* This is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, with more rhyming verse than elsewhere in his canon, particularly in Belmont. How does this affect how we read and experience the play? Does it make even a dark play sound more ‘comedic’? Is the music meant to smooth over the rough edges of the play?

* Why does Shakespeare give Lancelot, the clown, such a big role in this play? Unlike Wagner or Robin in Dr. Faustus, he has long speeches (Act 2, Scene 2) that more or less derail the play. Since Shakespeare’s fools often have a truth-telling role in his tragedies, what role do they seem to perform in his comedies? (if this is a comedy)

* Is there more than one Shylock in this play? Is he more consistent than Barabas in The Jew of Malta, who appears sometimes as a master of verse, elsewhere as a fake French musician? Is he also a “dissembler” like his predecessor? Note that in Act 3, Scene 3, the Quarto designates him only as the “Jew,” and not Shylock, almost as if he’s a stock character. Is he less himself in this act?

* Where do we hear echoes of The Jew of Malta in this play? Why does Shakespeare include them? Is he parodying the earlier play? Or performing an act of homage? (look at Act 2, Scene 8, for example)

* Why do you think we get the scenes with Morocco and Aragon in Act 2? Since both choose unwisely, why have them at all? What do they add to the play, and how might they be important if this play is a comedy?

* Why is Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3, Scene 1 in prose? It contains some of the most famous lines in Shakespeare...so why isn’t it glorified in imabic pentameter?

* How does Portia emerge as a character, and perhaps a foil, to the men in the play? What aspects of her character seem to most interest Shakespeare? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

For Those Interested: TEDx Lecture: Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Their Jews: John Kleiner

For those interested in the 16th century portrait of Jews in Elizabethan Drama, here's a short lecture (about 17 minutes) by a Renaissance scholar and professor at Williams College, John Kleiner. We might watch some of this in class, but either way, you might want this for your future research or simply to help understand The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice

NOTE: The questions for Tuesday are in the post below this one...

For Tuesday: Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Act V and Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act I

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In Act V, Barabas tells the audience, “Thus, loving neither, will I live with both,/Making a profit of my policy” (331). In the same way, Shylock does business with Christians, though admits in an aside, “I hate him for he is a Christian” (29). Does Shylock seem to have the same reasons for his “policy” with the enemy? Is he doing it simply to make money, or are hints of revenge woven into his cloth?

Q2: The Merchant of Venice exploits prose far more than any previous play in class. Discuss a passage where a character (or characters) venture into prose from poetry. Why is this? How does it help us understand the relationship between these characters, and when do they resume speaking in iambic pentameter?

Q3: Antonio has nothing but contempt for Shylock, as we see in his response, “I am as like to call thee so again,/To spet on thee again, to spurn thee, too.” (35). How might this interaction help us understand why Ferneze turns on Barabas in Act V, ultimately betraying him to the Turks and boiling him alive in a cauldron?

Q4: In Act One, Scene Two of The Merchant of Venice, we get the first scene in any of our plays where only women speak (not counting the brief appearance of the Serving Man). In this play, what makes the women stand apart from the men? How does he characterize their language and relationship? Related to this, why would we never mistake this scene for a passage in Marlowe? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For Thursday: Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Acts 3 & 4

[NOTE: A brief trailer for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Jew of Malta...note how several people say how "funny" is was!] 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: When Abigail decides to become a nun for the second time, Barabas goes off on a rant, proclaiming her “False, credulous, inconstant Abigail!” (197). He then hatches a plan which sounds like his boasts from Act 2, Scene 3: he decides to poison the entire nunnery with poisoned pottage. Does his broken heart drive him mad in this scene? Does he love Abigail even more than his gold? Or is he simply too vain to accept that anyone could choose a life apart from him? How does this confirm or complicate Barabas’ character?

Q2: Acts 3 and 4 most closely resemble the plot and tragic-comic elements of Titus Andronicus much more than Dr. Faustus. Where do we see echoes of this later play, that might prove Shakespeare studied it closely when writing his own, and/or worked with Marlowe in writing it?

Q3: Barabas is a master dissembler, not only in lying but in manipulating different roles throughout the course of the play. Discuss a scene where his language ‘clothes’ him in a different character: how does it impress the characters around him? Do they buy his performance? Do we?

Q4: Act 4, Scene 4, is arguably the funniest scene in the play: in the right hands, it could bring down the house. What makes this scene so humorous and over-the-top? Does the low comedy of this scene threaten to ruin the “tragedy of a Jew” that Machevil promised in the Prologue? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Tuesday: Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Acts One & Two

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Strangely, The Jew of Malta opens with a Prologue spoken by Machevil, a corruption of Machiavelli, author of the infamous political text, The Prince (1532). Based on what he tells the audience (and his language), why might we assume that this character is played by the same actor who performs Barabas? Or do you think he actually resembles another character we meet in the play?

Q2: While this play is often singled out for its traditionally anti-semitic views, how does Marlowe portray the Christian authorities in this play—esp. Ferneze, Del Bosco, and others? Are they the ‘heroes’ of the play, or its moral center? Consider Act 1, Scene 2 in particular, when Ferneze summons Barabas and the Three Jews to court.

Q3: Act 2, Scene 1 contains a balcony scene that is strangely reminiscent of the same scene in Romeo and Juliet (written only a few years later). How does Marlowe parody the traditional ‘love scene’ in this passage, and why might it have inspired Shakespeare when he depicted Romeo and Juliet?

Q4: One of the most famous passages in the play is when Barabas and Ithamore try to one-up each other on the evil deeds they perform in Christian society, such as “I walk abroad a-nights/And kill sick people groaning under walls” (2.3.). How does this passage support what we’ve seen of Barabas’ character thus far in the play? Is Barabas another Aaron, who is sympathetic one moment and horrific the next? Or do you think he’s simply trying to get Ithamore to show his true colors (and is thus lying, as he does throughout the play)?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Short Paper #1 Assignment

Option #1: The Player Makes the Part
“When admiring Shakespeare’s authorship of his great tragic roles, we should remember that he created them for Burbage, and could not have done so without this actor’s particular and remarkable gifts” (Hackett 64).

For this option, consider that Marlowe and Shakespeare shared many of the same actors when composing their plays; to make a play successful, you had to fit the part to the actor’s talents/abilities. We know that Edward Alleyn of the Admiral’s Men performed in Marlowe’s plays and continued acting until 1600 (long after Titus). Additionally, many other actors performed in different companies and for different playwrights. With this in mind, discuss a single character in Dr. Faustus and in Titus Andronicus that you think was written for the same actor. How does this role seem to suggest a specific set of qualities, abilities, and characteristics? What kind of actor does it seem written for? Is the language fluent and poetic? Short and comic? Full of bawdy innuendos? Or dripping with Classical allusions? Through close reading, make the case that each role shares certain qualities that would make it likely to be played by the same actor—or even a certain type of actor.

Option #2: Collaboration is King
“Chettle was one of a stable of writers…[who] contributed to some 49 plays between 1598 and 1603, of which 36 were collaborations. His colleague Heywood claimed to have had ‘either an entire hand, or at the least a maine finger’ in no fewer than 200 plays” (Hackett 67).

For this option, explore the idea that both plays (Faustus and Titus) are
collaborations by Shakespeare and Marlowe. In Faustus, Marlowe would have
been the chief writer with Shakespeare more a junior collaborator, whereas
Shakespeare took the lead on Titus with Marlowe simply adding a “hand or a
finger” to its composition. With this in mind, discuss two specific passages (at
least one from each play) that seem to illustrate the same quill at work. How
can we tell that this is Shakespeare writing or Marlowe writing? You don’t have
to prove this through sources/documentation, but rather, focus on themes,
characterization, and language to illustrate your theory. Where do two speeches
sound uncannily alike? Is there an obsession with a specific theme? A recurring
metaphor? A linguistic quirk? Through close reading, analyze both passages and
help us see the man behind the meter.

·        4-5 pages, double spaced
·        Must quote from both plays and analyze these quotations
·        Cite all quotations using MLA format with a Works Cited page
·        Due Thursday, February 9th by 5pm

Thursday, February 2, 2017

For Tuesday: Hackett, English Renaissance Drama, Chs. 3 and 4 “Marlowe” and “Shakespeare”

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: According to Hackett, what qualities distinguish the verse of Marlowe and Shakespeare? Similarly, what makes them distinct from one another? What does Shakespeare attempt in his lines/speeches that is rarely (if ever) encountered in Marlowe?

Q2: Why does Marlowe’s biography (or what little we know of it) shape the content of his plays? How did this lead to the Renaissance scholar, A.L. Rowse to proclaim “Faustus is Marlowe”? According to Hackett, where might we see some of his character in the plays or characters themselves?

Q3: The great 18th century poet Alexander Pope once wrote of Shakespeare: “His characters are so much Nature her self that ‘tis a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as Copies of her...every single character in Shakespeare is as much an Individual as those in Life itself” (99). While this might be hyperbolic, how does Hackett explain the basis for this sentiment? What makes many of his characters seem “universal” or “natural”?

Q4: Writing just before Shakespeare took the stage, the poet Sir Philip Sidney attacked the theater for creating plays where “you...have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under-kingdoms that the player, when he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he is” (109). How did both Shakespeare and Marlowe commit these artistic ‘sins,’ and why do you think they did so? Shakespeare, especially, was flagrant in disregarding the classical rules of theater.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

For Thursday: Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Act V & “A Modern Perspective” by Alexander Leggatt

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In Alexander Leggatt’s brief essay on the play, he writes that “The extravagance of the play’s action takes it to the edge of grotesque comedy. For Aaron, peering through the wall that signifies his detachment, it is a comedy” (249). How does Act 5 seem to underline Aaron’s view of the play—or life itself—as a comedy staged for his benefit? Why might this prove that Aaron could actually be played by the comic actor of the troupe?

Q2: How would you advise the actors play the elaborate meeting between Titus and Revenge in Act 5, Scene 2: as a tense, thrilling drama or as farcical slapstick? Is Titus cunning to see through the disguises of Tamora and her sons, or are the disguises really so bad that anyone could see through them? How does the language help us understand how to stage this extremely bizarre scene?

Q3: In one page—or more accurately, 6 lines—all the major characters are murdered by one another’s hand. It is a chaotic minute of murder, so fast that even the characters can’t keep up with it, saying little more than “Die, frantic wretch!” or “death for a deadly deed” (197). Is this revenge cathartic? Is it a satisfying pay off for all the planning and scheming going on since Act 3? Do you feel the audience would be satisfied by this grand bloodbath...or is it strangely anticlimactic—or even comic?

Q4: Leggatt, writing about Lavinia’s death, notes that “The last we hear of Lavinia is Lucius’ command to bury his father and sister in the family tomb. She is released from an intolerable life, but she is also absorbed into the patriarchal world that was implicated in her suffering” (246). How do the men in the play speak about the deaths of both women in the play, allowing them to be “absorbed” in the same manner?

Friday, January 27, 2017

For Tuesday:Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Acts 3 & 4

No questions this time, but we'll have an in-class response over an important scene/moment from these acts. Read carefully and try not to simply read for the plot (read all the summaries in the book first, perhaps, and then go back and enjoy/explore the language). Also, don't be bashful--read aloud! Especially a great speech like Titus' "If there were reason for these miseries," from Act 3, Scene 1 (p.107).

Also consider some of the following ideas:

* If we assume that Titus Andronicus was a play that was given to the young Shakespeare to write, or edit, or collaborate with another poet (Marlowe?), then where do we see him writing against the play? That is, where does he give more life and interest to the play than the plot requires or deserves? What scenes or moments stand out as truly artistic? 

* Where does Titus change in these acts? What is the cause for his transformation? 

* How does the theme of fathers/mothers and children continue to get developed in Acts Three and Four? Why do you think Shakespeare brings Aaron into this development?

* What scenes are inadvertently funny on the page? While this is a tragedy, and nothing is supposed to be comic (no prose, after all), why might some of these scenes be played for laughs? Do you think Shakespeare was aware of the comedic potential of some of the more absurd tragedy?

* Why does Shakespeare lavish such attention on Aaron in this play? He is potentially a one-note villain (similar to Barabas, who we will read about in The Jew of Malta), but certain moments rescue him from being a cardboard cut-out. What do you think interests Shakespeare about this early villain?

* Act 4, Scene 3 offers us a refreshing breeze of prose through the character of the Country Fellow. Though a brief moment, what effect does this have on the play? Is it similar to Marlowe's comic scenes? Or does Shakespeare try anything different? 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

For Thursday: Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Acts 1-2

NOTE: Shakespeare is slightly harder to read than Marlowe, so read the side notes carefully as you go along. Often, a single metaphor can help you ‘paint’ the scene, so make sure you understand the images and allusions Shakespeare writes into his characters’ lines. Try reading out loud if you have difficulty so you can hear the lines and imagine how they should be spoken. Also note that the side notes summarize each scene to give you the basic lay of the land.

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Briefly discuss what makes Shakespeare’s language (even in such an early play as this one) different than Marlowe’s. Is it more difficult? More visual? More verbose? Most beautiful? Less? Etc. Try to use a specific example to discuss this.

Q2: In many ways, this is a play about the relationship between fathers/mothers and their children. How do Titus and Tamora differ in their approach to these roles? Why might this be problematic for a play where Titus is the supposed “hero” of the play and Tamora the “villain”?

Q3: Remarkable for this era, Shakespeare writes a scene between two women: Lavinia and Tamora (Act 2.3). In this scene, Lavinia is abducted by Tamora’s sons and on the verge of being raped. Desperately, she appeals to a fellow woman who has undoubtedly been brutalized in her own life. Why does this scene striker deeper than almost anything in the play thus far? How does Tamora respond to her pleas? What makes her eventually turn her back on Lavinia?

Q4: Titus is an odd character, representing a strange notion of honor and loyalty. Why do you think Shakespeare makes him refuse the emperorship, and then support Saturninus (who has physically threatened him) over Bassianus (who has been much kinder)? How are we supposed to respond as an audience to Titus in the First Act? Why might this be?

Friday, January 20, 2017

For Tuesday: Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, Scenes 8-14

Answer TWO of the following for class:

Q1: The Chorus of the Epilogue warns, “Regard his hellish fall,/Whose fiendful fortune may extort the wise/Only to wonder at unlawful things” (395). Since Epilogues/Choruses were often added by other hands or companies, does this seem a fitting end or moral to the play? Is this a morality play about the dangers of learning—or forbidden learning? Should it extort the audience to collectively “burn their books”? Or is this merely one aspect—or a simpler aspect—of the play that Marlowe envisioned?

Q2: Given Faustus’ interest in cosmology, truth, and other divine secrets, why does he use all his power simply to play tricks on popes, put horns on knights, and conjure up grapes and dead women? Given that he has a personal demon to do his bidding, are these surprisingly mundane conjurings? Why doesn’t he have more lofty ambitions, and/or why wouldn’t he try to solve more ‘forbidden’ truths?

Q3: Scene 14 is one of the most dramatic and poetic passages of the entire play, and Marlowe uses the passing of time to great effect (notice the stage directions as he speaks). How does Marlowe attempt to humanize him through some of his greatest poetry throughout this scene, particularly in his final soliloquy?

Q4: This is the A-Text of Dr. Faustus, which contains many scenes that are not in the slightly longer B-Text. Some of these passages might be additions, or they might be passages Marlowe himself revised after further thought. If you had to perform the play, is there a specific scene or passage you would omit either because it isn’t particularly effective, or because you feel it is unworthy of the rest of the play? Briefly explain why the removal of this scene/moment would improve the play. 

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