English 615: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Cr. 3.


The death of Elizabeth I makes a turning point in British drama. Beginning with Hamlet, the Jacobean dramatists turned inward to explore the darkest corners of the human psyche. Their tragedies portray the human struggle to be heroic, to assert control over self and circumstance, and to will order on a disintegrating world. Their comedies dissect men and women and strip them naked to reveal their vanity and folly. The tragedies are passionate, moving, ironic, and often disturbing. Together they cover the richest, most explosive body of dramatic literature in English.

Our course will explore the drama through a representative but also wide ranging selection of plays. Possible choices include the following: Shakespeare, King Lear; Antony and Cleopatra or Troilus and Cressida; Webster, The White Devil; Ford, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore; Jonson, Bartholomew Fair; Chapman, The Widow's Tears; Massinger, The New Way to Pay Old Debts; Tourner, The Revenger's Tragedy; Middleton, The Changeling; and Marston, The Dutch Courtesan.

To establish the distinctiveness of Jacobean drama, the course will begin by tracing the development of drama from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. We will pay attention to changes in form and staging practices, and we will link the history of the stage to the spirit of the age. As preparation for the study of these plays, we will also explore definitions of and our expectations of tragedy and comedy, and later try to assess these plays in terms of these deliberations.

Student requirements: an oral report, a short paper (five to eight pages), a major paper (ten to fifteen pages), a midterm, and a final exam.