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