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DRAM 155: Theatrical Texts and Times

Barbara Waldinger and Charles Repole

(Submission #93)

Course Description

How do plays “hold the mirror up to nature?” What do we learn about “the very age and body of the time” by reading plays, learning about theatrical practices and enacting scenes?

This course connects dramatic literature from various time periods with the culture and beliefs of people who lived during those times.

Students will spend the first half of the semester reading and analyzing plays written by Christopher Marlowe and several early plays of William Shakespeare. Selections will include such comparisons as Richard II and Marlowe’s Edward II; Shakespeare’s Richard III and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus; Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, and Shakespeare’s violent Titus Andronicus. During this half of the semester students will have the opportunity to handle Elizabethan text by performing monologues and scenes from the above plays.

The second half of the semester will familiarize the students with Elizabethan society and the issues facing the playwrights who wrote during that era. Using the Reacting to the Past pedagogy in a role-play situation designed by Professor Eric Mallin, ( Marlowe and Shakespeare, 1592), the class will be divided into three groups: The Lord Strange’s Men (led by Richard Burbage), a troupe that performs Shakespeare's plays; The Lord Admiral’s Men (led by Edward Alleyn),known for performing Marlowe's plays, and Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council (historical figures who advise Her Majesty). Each student will research and assume the role of a specific figure of the time. We will set up a contest between the two troupes, who, by means of oral and written arguments gleaned from a variety of primary and secondary documents, as well as performances of key scenes, attempt to persuade the Privy Council to select either The Jew of Malta or Titus Andronicus to be produced at Henslowe’s Rose Theatre in 1592.

Role-play is a theatrical technique used by many disciplines in order to allow students to “walk a mile in the moccasins” of another being. In their Renaissance roles, students will experience firsthand the dangerous political atmosphere of the time, the difficulties faced by the playwrights in skirting the censors, and the reception their work was given by ordinary people as well as those in authority. They will learn about the class system and find the place of their characters within it. Twenty-first century actors will learn how unimportant they become in a society ruled by a powerful monarch, one in which they need the protection of members of the nobility to survive in their lowly profession. Through their reading of primary documents (such as letters, royal proclamations, playbills, handbooks, treatises), students will compare and contrast life in the Renaissance with their contemporary points of view. They will need to filter their way of thinking through the lens of the English Renaissance. In 1592 London, how do performers and playwrights achieve success? How has this situation changed today both in our country and abroad?


Area of Knowledge and Inquiry: Appreciating and Participating in the Arts (AP)
Context of Experience: Not Applicable
Extended Requirement: Not Applicable

Additional Course information

Credits: 3
Prerequisites: none
Existing Course: New
Existing Course Number: 
Course Anticipated to be offered: Every Spring
Other (if specified): 
Number of Sections: 1
Number of Seats: 25


[Justification, Materials, Assessment, Administration (DOC)]   [Syllabus/Syllabi (DOC)]  

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