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  


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