ENGL 3015 Renaissance Drama
William Shakespeare: this name is, for most people, the only one that survives from the ground-breaking explosion of theatrical culture we now call “Renaissance Drama.” But when Shakespeare began his career as a London playwright in the late 1580s, he entered a creative field that was already stuffed with popular authors exploring the most crucial issues of their time (and, indeed, of our own). In this course, you’ll learn to see Renaissance drama the way that those who lived through it did: as a rich, sometimes life-or-death conversation among authors, monarchs, theatre audiences, and readers. Together, we’ll read plays by representative writers like Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, and Elizabeth Cary (author of the first play by a woman in English). Guiding questions for our discussions will include: how did these playwrights invent new ways of staging tragic violence, controversial political critiques, and transgressive desires? How do these plays reinforce, question, or challenge the period’s assumptions about gender, race, social order, and power? What forces have shaped the modern editions of plays that we use in courses like this one? And how can encountering the distinctive, diverse voices of Renaissance drama enrich our knowledge both of literary history and of our own cultural moment?