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?