Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Renaissance Drama

ENGL 233.401
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3

This class will explore the representation in drama of people who defied the sexual and gender norms of Early Modern culture: for example, women labeled shrews or witches; wives who refused to obey their husbands or who killed their husbands or who took lovers outside of marriage; men accused of sodomy, effeminacy, or of killing or beating their wives. We will investigate what the Renaissance considered appropriate gender and sexual behavior for men and for women and the particular ways the drama represented those who did not conform. One focus will be plays called domestic tragedies which dramatize transgressions of gender norms within the Early Modern household: plays such as Arden of Faversham (about a woman who takes a lover and has her husband killed); A Woman Killed with Kindness (about a woman who takes a lover and is given an unusual punishment for her crime); The Witch of Edmonton (about a woman put to death for destroying household and village harmony through her supposed witchcraft); The Yorkshire Tragedy (about a man who kills his wife and children); Othello (about a man who kills his wife). We will also look at several plays featuring women labeled shrews, viragos, or whores; and several about men who engage in disorderly or sodomitical forms of homoerotic behavior. We will investigate how norms and transgressions of those norms are connected and the way the Early Modern stage both confirmed and disrupted the culture's codes for separating "good" behavior from "bad."