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ENGL202: Cultural and Literary Expression in the English Renaissance

Unit 4: Elizabethan Drama   Something electric happened to drama in Elizabethan England; the plays from this era remain one of the richest, most widely-adored, and most frequently-referenced bodies of literature in literary history.  In this unit, we will examine the traditions from which Elizabethan dramatists drew and the conventions, styles, and themes they developed in their own right.  We will finish by spending a significant amount of time acquainting ourselves with two of the era’s major dramatists: Christopher Marlowe and the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

4.1 Influences   4.1.1 Classical Roots: Greek and Latin Tragedies   - Reading: University of South Florida-Tampa: Dr. Patrick M. Finelli’s “History of Theater” Link:  Tupelo Community Theater’s version of Dr. Patrick M. Finelli’s “History of Theater”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read the following sections from this useful essay:  “Greek Theater”, “Roman Theater”, “Medieval Theater” (note – you will need to click on “next section” to see the conclusion of the last section). Note – this also addresses topics covered in 4.1.2.
 
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  • Reading: Dr. Charles Burton Gulick “Greek Tragedy” Link:  Dr. Charles Burton Gulick “Greek Tragedy”(HTML) from Harvard Classics Vol. 51: Lectures on the Harvard Classics
     
    Instructions:  Read this lucid overview of Greek Tragedy to prepare for later readings and examples of Shakespeare’s work in the genre.
     
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4.1.2 Medieval Traditions: Mystery/Morality Plays and Their Performances   - Reading: Martha Fletcher Bellinger’s “Moralities, Interludes and Farces of the Middle Ages” Link:  Moonstruck Drama Bookstore’s version of Martha Fletcher Bellinger’s “Moralities, Interludes and Farces of the Middle Ages”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this essay, originally published in A Short History of the Drama, for an excellent overview that addresses, among other topics, why medieval audiences enjoyed onstage jokes about sex and digestion.
 
Note – this reading also covers 4.1.3
 
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4.1.3 Late 15th-Century Interludes   4.1.4 A Shift to the Secular: the Emergence of Non-Religious Plays   - Reading: Harvard University-Cambridge: W.A. Neilson’s “Elizabethan Drama” (HTML) Link:  W.A. Neilson’s “Elizabethan Drama”(HTML) from Harvard Classics Vol. 51: Lectures on the Harvard Classics
Also available on Google Books
 
Instructions:  In 1.3.4 we read Professor Neilson’s study of the Elizabethan explorers. Bringing the same level of scholarship to this essay, Professor Neilson here explores the emergence and form of Elizabethan drama.  Read the entire essay but take special note of the first two sections where Professor Neilson’s traces the emergence of uniquely English, secular theater.
 
Note – this essay partially fulfills the reading requirement for 4.1.5  
 
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4.1.5 Comedy Hits the Stage   - Reading: Dr. Debora B. Shwartz’s “Shakespeare’s Plays: Comedy” Dr. Debora B. Shwartz’s “Shakespeare’s Plays: Comedy” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the information on Shakespearian comedies.

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4.2 Theater in Elizabethan England   - Reading: Samuel Bowles’ “Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Audience” Link:  Samuel Bowles’ “Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Audience” (PDF)
 
Instructions:  To access the PDF, please scroll down to the final entry under the Table of Contents, and select the link "download paper".  Read this superior essay by University of Southern Indiana President’s Medal recipient Samuel Bowles for a comprehensive discussion of Elizabethan theater audiences.
 
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4.2.2 Theater Companies   - Reading: Thomas Larque’s “A Lecture on Elizabethan Theater” Link: Thomas Larque’s “A Lecture on Elizabethan Theater”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read Section 4 “The Players”, Section 5 “The Playwrights” and Section 7 “Costume, Scenery and Effects” by scholar Thomas Larque for a better understanding of theatrical life during the Elizabethan age.
 
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4.2.3 Playhouses   - Reading: Arkansas State University-Jonesboro: Dr. Wayne Narey’s “Renaissance English Drama: Elizabethan Playhouses” Link: Luminarium’s version of Dr. Wayne Narey’s “Renaissance English Drama: Elizabethan Playhouses”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  For a general understanding of the origins and evolution of the Elizabethan stage
 
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4.2.4 Staging Conventions   - Reading: Arkansas State University-Jonesboro: Dr. Wayne Narey’s “Renaissance English Drama: Elizabethan Staging Conventions” Link: Luminarium’s version of Dr. Wayne Narey’s “Renaissance English Drama: Elizabethan Staging Conventions”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  For a general understanding of the origins and evolution of the Elizabethan staging conventions.
 
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4.2.5 Overview of Major Dramatists and Contributions   4.3 The Masque   4.3.1 What Is a Masque?   - Reading: Helen Hull, Meg Pearson and Erin Sadlack’s “History of the Masque Genre” Link:  Helen Hull, Meg Pearson and Erin Sadlack’s “History of the Masque Genre”(HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this thorough essay posted by several University of Maryland graduate students that provides a solid understanding of the masque – its origins and significance to Elizabethan theater. Note – this reading also fulfills 4.3.2 and 4.3.3
 
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4.3.2 Roots in Oral Medieval Traditions   4.3.3 The Masque, Patrons, and the Court   4.3.4 Ben Johnson and the Art of the Masque   - Reading: The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes – Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two, Section XIII – “Johnson’s Masques” Link: Barleby.com’s version of “Johnson’s Masques”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this scholarly assessment of Johnson’s masques taken from the 18 volume work that came out between 1907 and 1921 and redefined the study of English and American literature.

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  • Reading: Ben Johnson’s “The Masque of Blackness” Link:  Luminarium’s version of Ben Johnson’s “The Masque of Blackness”(HTML) from The Works of Ben Johnson (1853)
     
    Instructions:  Read the full text of Johnson’s influential work, noted for its poetic achievements, that won him favor at court and cemented his reputation as the most accomplished author in the genre.
     
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    Note on the text: The Masque of Blackness,” Ben Jonson’s quasi-dramatic work, was performed before a court audience, earning him the favor of a number of wealthy patrons

4.4 Christopher Marlowe, “Father of English Tragedy”   4.4.1 Brief Biographic Snapshot   - Reading: Kevin N. Nensteil’s “A Brief Life of Christopher Marlowe” Link:  Kevin N. Nensteil’s “A Brief Life of Christopher Marlowe”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this essay by novelist and playwright Kevin N. Nensteil to learn more about the various controversies surrounding Marlowe’s early life as well an overview of his works.
 
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4.4.2 The Dramatic Blank Verse Tradition   - Reading: The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes – Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One. Chapter VII. Marlowe and Kyd. Section 15 “Creation of Blank Verse as a dramatic instrument.” Link:  Bartleby.com’s version of “Creation of Blank Verse as a dramatic instrument.”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this scholarly assessment of black verse in theater and Marlowe’s contribution taken from the 18 volume work that came out between 1907 and 1921 and redefined the study of English and American literature.

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4.4.3 The Birth of English Tragedy in Marlowe’s Works   - Reading: Wiliam Lyon Phelps’ “The Life and Works of Christopher Marlowe” Link: theatrehistory.com’s version of Wiliam Lyon Phelps’ “The Life and Works of Christopher Marlowe”(HTML)
Also available on Google Books
 
Instructions:  Read this essay, originally published in Christopher Marlowe (1912) for an exceptional gloss of the playwright’s life and lasting significance. Note – this reading also fulfills 4.4.5
 
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4.4.4 Overview of His Works   - Web Media: Video: “‘Dr. Faustus’ excerpts by Christopher Marlowe (poetry reading)”” Link: “‘Dr. Faustus’ excerpts by Christopher Marlowe (poetry reading””(Requires Flash)
 
Instructions: Watch this audio and video clip posted to youtube.com which is particularly helpful due to the inclusion of period images and frequent use of on-screen text.
 
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4.4.5 Hallmarks and Accomplishments: The Marlowe Legacy   Note on the texts: In his major drama “Doctor Faustus,” Christopher Marlowe presents the somewhat conventional story of a man who bargains with the devil for forbidden knowledge, adding depth and complexity with his brilliant representation of the title character’s psyche and insatiable drive for power.

4.5 William Shakespeare   4.5.1 Shakespeare the Man: Who Was William Shakespeare?   - Reading: AbsoluteShakespeare.com’s “Shakespeare Biography Link:  AbsoluteShakespeare.com’s “Shakespeare Biography”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this fact-based, clearly outlined review of Shakespeare’s life.
 
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  • Reading: New Folger Library’s “Shakespeare’s Story” Link:  New Folger Library’s “Shakespeare’s Story”(HTML)
     
    Instructions:  Read this selection which forms part of the “Shakespeare’s Life” from the New Folger Library’s Shakespeare editions edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine
     
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4.5.2 Shakespeare the Bard: Overview of His Dramatic Achievements   - Reading: Farleigh Dickinson University’s FDU Magazine’s “All the World’s His Stage” Link:  FDU Magazine’s “All the World’s His Stage”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this lively discussion of Shakespeare’s legacy, style and major works. Participants include Stephen Hollis, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s theater arts program and assistant professor of visual and performing arts; Harry Keyishian, professor of English; and June Schlueter, provost and Charles A. Dana Professor of English at Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.
 
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4.5.3 Shakespearean Style, Language, and Technique   - Reading: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities’ review of Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode Link: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities’ review of Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode”(HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read this book review for a humorous, well-informed look at Shakespeare’s linguistics.
 
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  • Reading: “Gwynneth Bowen’s “Shakespeare’s Early Style” (HTML) Link:  Sourcebook’s version of “Gwynneth Bowen’s “Shakespeare’s Early Style”(HTML)
     
    Instructions:  Read this excellent parsing of Shakespeare’s early compositions; the article originally appeared in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter in 1958.
     
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  • Reading: University of Toronto-Toronto: Professor David Reibetanz’ “Shakespeare’s Mature Style: Language as Drama” Link:  Professor David Reibetanz’ “Shakespeare’s Mature Style:  Language as Drama”(HTML)
     
    Instructions:  Read this essay dealing with Shakespeare’s later compositions.  Compare with Bowen’s treatment in the earlier reading.
     
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  • Reading: Jem Bloomfield’s “Soliloquy Basics” Link:  Jem Bloomfield’s “Soliloquy Basics” (HTML)
      
    Instructions: Read this brief but helpful description of a key element of Shakespeare’s literary technique.
     
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  • Reading: Cosmos Online’s “Shakespeare Good for the Brain” (HTML) Link:  Cosmos Online’s “Shakespeare Good for the Brain
     
    Instructions:  Read this article from Australia’s award-winning, “#1 science media brand” to learn about a 2006 University of Liverpool study of what happens to a person’s brain while reading Shakespeare.
     
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4.5.4 Close Reading of Shakespeare’s Work   - Reading: New Folger Library’s “Romeo and Juliet” Link: New Folger Library’s “Romeo and Juliet” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this short but helpful overview from the New Folger Library’s Shakespeare editions edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine
 
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  • Reading: “Romeo and Juliet – an analysis of the play by Shakespeare” Link:  theatrehistory.com’s version of “Romeo and Juliet – an analysis of the play by Shakespeare”(HTML)
     
    Instructions:  Read this insightful essay with pertinent passages from the play originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 14. (ed. Alfred Bates) in 1906.
     
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  • Reading: William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” Link:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s version of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”(HTML)
     
    Instructions:  Read the entire text of Shakespeare’s famous romantic tragedy.

  • Web Media: Baz Luhrman’s “You Kiss By the Book” Link:  Imdb’s version of Baz Luhrman’s “You Kiss by the Book”(Requires Flash)
     
    Instructions:  Watch Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Daines act the famous soliloquy from Act 1, Scene 5 of “Romeo and Juliet” from director Baz Luhrman’s 1996 film.
     
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  • Web Media: Ricardo Pineda’s “Romeo and Juliet : The Balcony Scene” Link: Ricardo Pineda’s “Romeo and Juliet : The Balcony Scene” (HTML)

    Instructions: Watch this contemporary, amateur performance of the famous balcony scene from Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet.

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4.5.5 Influence on the Canon and the English Language Itself   - Web Media: The Kennedy Center’s “Shakespeare: Legacy and Modern Interpretations” Link:  The Kennedy Center’s “Shakespeare:  Legacy and Modern Interpretations”(YouTube)
 
Instructions: Watch this short video that examines the impact of Shakespeare’s work on modern language and consciousness.
 
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  • Reading: Wily Walnut’s “Learn what literary genius William Shakespeare knew about communication and how you can "get it" inside your head!” Link:  Wily Walnut’s “Learn what literary genius William Shakespeare knew about communication and how you can "get it" inside your head!”(HTML)
     
    Instructions:  To appreciate the extent of Shakespeare’s influence, read this usurpation of his reputation that is remarkably on-target, occasionally crass and often humorous. Enjoy.
     
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    Note on the text: Perhaps the most famous love story of all time, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has been performed, adapted, and re-imagined innumerable times.  The original work features Shakespeare’s unique blend of the humorous and the tragic as he explores class relations, the concept of fate, and the experience of love.