English 026.001 -- Fall 2006

Drama to 1660

Instructor: Daniel Traister
Monday and Wednesday, 2-3:30 PM, in Lea Library, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
-- but if class size is too big for Lea, then we will meet in Williams Hall 319
Office: 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Office hours: call for appointment (but usually 9-5)
Phone: 215 898 7088 (voicemail -7089)
Email: traister@pobox.upenn.edu


Class goals, requirements, grading, and textbooks follow the syllabus.

You will see that Weeks 2 and 3 assign a play on Monday and another on Wednesday. These are short plays! Later weeks assign only one play. In two of those later weeks, however -- Week 5; Week 8 -- I recommend that, if you can manage it, you read a play by Shakespeare alongside the non-Shakespearian play we read for this class. In another week -- Week 11, just before the Thanksgiving break -- I recommend reading a second play by John Webster. My recommendations are not code for "you are required . . . " They are recommendations only.

I want you to become familiar quickly with as much terminology and period background as possible. Background reading assignments are heavier in our initial weeks than they are later on (when they are non-existent). You should have completed both Lennard and Luckhurst and Scott-Warren by Week 5. Please note: if it seems clear to me that you are not keeping up with these two books, I do reserve the right to spring unannounced quizzes on both books.

Assignments for some weeks include PURLs that take you to articles (from JSTOR or Project Muse) or plays (from EEBO) in early editions. These PURLs work only if you are using a computer with a Penn IP. You can also access the materials through the Library's website but may have to authenticate yourself to do so. I am more concerned that you read the plays than that you read about the plays. All articles are thus recommended only unless I specifically require one in class. Do look now and again at copies (even if only the online ones) of early editions of the plays we read.

I provide Library call numbers for copies of VHS or DVD versions of plays we read or that I recommend you see. Additional copies of these plays, and tapes or disks of plays not yet in the Libary's collections, can often be found: locally, at places like TLA or Blockbuster, and further afield through Netflix). Try to see as many as you have time and patience to watch (and discretionary money to spend!).

Week 1 (September 6)Wednesday:

Week 2 (September 11, September 13)

Week 3 (September 18, September 20)

Week 4 (September 25, September 27)

Week 5 (October 2 [Yom Kippur], October 4)

Approximately 500 words (roughly two pages), due Wednesday, October 11
This very short paper concerns Scott-Warren.

Writing about "the self," Scott-Warren remarks that "To survey early modern self-writings is . . . to realize that no single factor can possibly explain the phenomena one encounters" (p. 244) One might say something very similar about other issues than "the self" as well. In this short paper -- you might think of it more as a "book review" than as a "paper"? -- I would like to you offer a critique (negative, positive, mixed -- your choice) of Scott-Warren's book as an introduction to our period's background through trying to use it (negatively, positively, or -- "mixedly"?? -- again, your choice) as providing a way or ways of thinking about ANY ONE of the plays we've read so far.

This is not one of the "formal" essays your syllabus mention. It is instead both a check on your reading of Scott-Warren and a chance for me to see what your writing is like before you have to submit a "formal" paper. The "trick": to write a critique Scott-Warren while using whatever play you choose as a handle on that task, not as your primary focus. But I think it's a good idea to have some "anchor," as it were, for your comments about Scott-Warren, whatever the point of view you take about his book turns out to be.

Week 6 (October 9, October 11)

Week 7 (October 16, October 18)

Week 8 (October 23, October 25)

Week 9 (October 30, November 1)

Week 10 (November 6, November 8)

Week 11 (November 13, November 15)

Week 12 (November 20, November 22)

Week 13 (November 27, November 29)

Week 14 (December 4, December 6)


When we come to early English drama, Shakespeare usually sucks up most of the available air in the room. In this course, we'll read some of his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. Early English drama, whether by Shakespeare or by anybody else, illuminates both life and itself. It pushes its audiences to the limits of their imaginations even as it tests its own capacities.

The range of plays we read will include tragedies and comedies, plays that revel in blood and gore, works that comment on the roles of women, Jews, and other distant and strange ("foreign") peoples in contemporary English society -- just about anything and everything that people in a theater audience might find interesting. Authors will include that famous old master, Anonymous. Others will be playwrights you may have heard of -- and some you've almost certainly not heard of. If any turn up on stage between Washington and New York while we're in session, we will try to see them performed.

Intended as an introduction for students who have never read early English drama or who have already taken the department's course on Shakespeare, this class will require

Finally, we'll do some kind of small project on something -- a theatrical presentation (by an individual or a group?), an artistic or musical interpretation of or response to one or more of the plays we read (again, by an individual or a group?), or something altogether different -- on which student and instructor agree.


By the end of this semester, you should have

Attendance and Participation

The success of this course depends entirely on your willingness to be engaged by the material and by each other. You need to keep up with the reading and to read carefully. You also need to be adventurous about the interpretations you offer. Take risks, draw connections, ask questions -- and do not despair in the face of strangeness, oddity, or complexity. Above all, talk to one another during our class meetings. I hope to facilitate discussion, to suggest some historical and cultural contexts for the material that we read, occasionally to direct attention to points I feel have been overlooked -- but the direction and momentum of our conversations are for you to determine.

I feel strongly that there are bad -- ineffective; inaccurate; lazy -- ways to read older (or, for that matter, any) literature. I do not feel that there is only one right way (that is, my way) to read it effectively, accurately, or energetically. You will, in any case, quickly discover that Lennard and Luckhurst -- the authors of one of your texts -- suggest some very real difficulties with the idea of "accurate" readings of plays, as if one could be sure what "accuracy" is. Perhaps you will find many ways to be "wrong," but I hope you will find many more ways to be "right." The more different they turn out to be from my ideas, the more I will learn from you and the happier I will be.

Obviously, in the context just suggested, your classroom participation is important. It will count for one-fifth (20%) of your final grade. That is to say, you will receive a letter grade for the contributions that you make to classroom discussions. Arrive promptly for each class. I do not permit unexcused absences. Habitual lateness and/or more than one unexcused absence during the semester will result in the deduction of one-third of a letter grade from your final grade. Two or more unexcused absences before the end of the drop period will cause you to be dropped from the class. Five unexcused absences during the semester will result in a failing grade for the course.

Formal Assignments and Grades

In addition to class participation (20% of your grade) the formal work for this class consists of:

I should warn you that I do pay attention not only to what you say but also to how you say it. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking. I do not expect response journals and emails to meet the same standards as formal papers. (Mine sure don't.)

PLEASE NOTE: it is your responsibility to be familiar with the relevant sections of the University's Code of Academic Integrity. Inevitably, your work will be collaborative in the sense that it will draw on and respond to the work of scholars, teachers, and students. But your work must also be original in the sense that its central ideas, questions, or ways of considering problems are your own. Acknowledge your intellectual debts. Any student who commits academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade for the course.

One informal assignment (graded, if you want it, for extra credit):

Do not feel limited by the suggestions for projects just offered. You can easily come up with alternatives more imaginative and useful than anything I have mentioned. Whatever you choose to do, please consult with me before you embark on any such project.

Also informal -- but consider it, too, as closely related to classroom participation: there is a class listserv. I encourage postings to it of questions, comments, perhaps (we'll speak about this) even of responses to plays we read (or, if we can manage to find any, plays we see).

Some additional suggestions

In reading these plays, read Bevington's introductions. Use the notes when you find them necessary. Try not to let them distract you from your reading when you don't find them necessary; and remember that any introduction is a first word, not a last one.


Renaissance English is modern English. It is not the Old English of Beowulf. It is not the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is, however, early modern English -- and it is English, not American.. Present-day readers meeting it the first few times may find its differences from modern American English confusing. As the semester progresses, you should become increasingly familiar with Renaissance English. If you have previously studied Shakespeare or Renaissance English poetry, drama, or prose, you may already be partially familiar with it: its vocabulary, forms of usage, syntax and word order, and its ability (often masked by modern spellings) to use single words to mean things we use several words to mean. When in doubt, in addition to using the notes, read passages aloud. (It does become less embarrassing after a while -- and in any event drama is meant to be performed, not to be read in silent study.)

When still in doubt, the single best resource for readers of English-language works is the Oxford English Dictionary. OED is available to Penn students through the Library's website, as well as in its various printed forms. This dictionary does provide you with simple "definitions." But -- much more importantly -- it offers historical definitions, a record of how a word has been used over time. These, and not just "the definition," are what you want to learn to use when you use OED. This information allows you to see the range of different usages and meanings any given word might have made available to someone using it during the sixteenth or seventeenth century in addition to its primary, obvious, or present-day denotative value(s).

You also have access to a special library within Van Pelt, the Furness Memorial [Shakespeare] Library (6th floor). Furness has many additional dictionaries, guides, and studies specifically devoted to study of Shakespeare, his predecessors, and his contemporaries. It also holds basic historical, religious, critical, and bibliographical guides. Dictionaries -- of slang and of erotic or sexual terms often found in drama -- are likely to prove particularly useful. (Those of you who have read Shakespeare will already know why. Renaissance English writers did not produce literature easy to recommend to anyone who finds such stuff difficult to speak about, such words difficult to use. They will come up in class now and again, as well as in the scholarship you read.) Reference materials in Furness do not circulate. They are always there for your use.

I will always be happy to suggest other places to look at when you have a problem. There are no stupid questions. Not asking your question, however, probably is stupid.


Texts are available at the Pennsylvania Book Center, 34th and Sansom Streets.

  1. English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology, ed. David M. Bevington, Lars Engle, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Eric Rasmussen (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) -- ISBN 0393976556

  2. John Lennard and Mary Luckhurst, The Drama Handbook: A Guide to Reading Plays (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) -- ISBN 0198700709

  3. Jason Scott-Warren, Early Modern English Literature, Cultural History of Literature (Cambridge, England, and Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2005) -- ISBN 0745627528

    You will easily, if you want to look for them, find copies of the plays we read in the Library or, in many different editions, inexpensively (or very expensively) available through second-hand or used bookstores either in and around Philadelphia or through the internet. I very much hope that you will avoid such texts. For discussion purposes, it actually makes a difference in class if we are -- or are not -- all on the same page (literally on the same page!). In-class or response or paper references to passages under discussion will be easily found if we are, hard to find if we are not, using the same book.

    Moreover, although for most of us this point is hard really to believe (Lennard and Luckhurst and Scott-Warren both help to explain it), the texts -- the actual words and the order in which they appear -- of early English plays are very far from settled. True for Shakespeare, it is also true for everyone else who wrote plays in and around his era, too. As a result, different editors and editions often print different versions of what most of us, used to mass-produced twenty-first century books, would ordinarily regard as "the same" text, the same work. These texts come from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century hand-press books, not modern machine-press books. They were not at all the same kind of thing you buy in a bookshop today, even though they look as if they ought to have been.

    I have tried to choose a textbook that provides modern, reasonably reliable versions of the texts we are going to read. I hope you will use it. I am also hopeful about the specific benefits of Lennard and Luckhurst and Scott-Warren as opposed to other ("generic") books about drama or about Renaissance backgrounds.

    Recommendations for additional reading

    The word "recommendations" in this heading, as in the Syllabus, is not a codeword for "required." People not yet familiar with early modern England would, I think, enjoy (a word I mean literally) reading one or another of the following books (and I will suggest others in class now and again):

You can send Traister e-mail concerning this page at traister@pobox.upenn.edu.

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