English 233.301
Renaissance Drama: Drama of the Tudor and Stuart Periods

Instructor: Daniel Traister

Fall 1998

Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00-4:30 P.M.
Location: Henry Charles Lea Library, sixth floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

Instructor's office: Department of Special Collections, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Phone: 215 898 7088; fax: 215 573 9079
E-mail: traister@pobox.upenn.edu



In this class, we read a variety of plays written by some of Shakespeare's predecessors, contemporaries, and successors in all genres, including tragedies, comedies, histories, and some older forms, such as moralities and interludes. Writers include Robert Greene, Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, the Countess of Pembroke, Elizabeth Cary, Ben Jonson, John Webster, "Cyril Tourneur," Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Thomas Middleton, and John Ford. These writers responded to, and in their own turn affected, a society in the midst of deep and widely-ranging social, religious, and cultural changes that were to eventuate in civil war and revolution. Examination of dramatic language and form, as well as of broad cultural issues, will be focuses of this course. Readings will consist of one to two plays a week with additional critical and historical readings (some few required; others, more frequently, recommended). Students will write two short papers and one long final essay for the class.


Read this section now to avoid surprise, disappointment, or horror later.

The instructor expects students to read, in addition to the plays themselves, some historical and critical works. A few are among the books required for this course. Recommended additional readings of this kind appear in the syllabus below. These are recommendations. They are not covert requirements. Nonetheless, they are listed here because the instructor hopes you will read as many of them as you can. Study of Renaissance English drama (study of literature generally, in fact) is, in one sense, an ongoing conversation between people with vastly different points of view, from many different countries and cultures, and, now, speaking to one another across several centuries. Even an introductory course offers an opportunity to sample that conversation, which, in its often odd way, is part of the pleasure of study of drama: you might as well begin to taste that pleasure, as well as the pleasures of the writers themselves, now. The amount of writing on early English drama is enormous. The instructor has tried to recommend a few (usually short) essays he thinks (1) might be useful, instructive, and readable; (2) reflect both older and more recent approaches to the plays; and (3) won't harm you.

Your textbooks include short introductions to each play (read them) and notes. 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. Renaissance English is modern. It is neither the Old English of Beowulf nor the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is, however, early modern English. Modern readers meeting it the first few times can find its differences from our own English confusing. As the semester progresses, you will find yourselves increasingly familiar with Renaissance English (if you have previously studied Shakespeare or Renaissance English poetry, you will already be 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 the passage aloud. (It will become less embarrassing after a while.) Watching a production will also help.

The single best resource for readers of English-language works is the Oxford English Dictionary, available to Penn students through the Library's website, as well as in its various printed forms. You also have access to a special library within Van Pelt, the Furness Memorial [Shakespeare] Library (6th floor), with many additional dictionaries, guides, and studies specifically devoted to study of Shakespeare and of his contemporary dramatists. Because these materials do not circulate, they are always there for your use.

Several online resources to assist the study of early English drama exist. Some of them are even good. A selection appears below.

These playwrights wrote their plays to be staged, that is, for actors who would produce them before an audience where they would be seen and heard. They were not written down for readers. It will be a source of pleasure and enhance your understanding of his plays if you watch as many videotaped versions of them as possible, whether productions originally made for television or the movies: the more the merrier. If logistical arrangements can be made and productions are running during the fall semester, we will make a Friday night or weekend journey or two to see live productions. It might even be helpful to see a Shakespearian play performed (his work is produced far more frequently than works by his contemporaries but it is informed by the same theatrical conventions as theirs).

This class will work through discussion rather than lectures. Your attendance will make a difference in its success--and your attendance and participation in your grade. Ground rules: talk; interrupt; open your mouths. Be polite; do not let politeness get in the way of making your points.

The course requires two short (about 5 pages) papers, due October 1 and November 5; some scattered one-page/200-250 word short responses to specific queries (some are specified below); willingness to participate in some classroom presentations of scenes even at the cost of feeling like an ass while doing so; and a final paper (about 15 pages) due December 18. No final examination will be scheduled. The instructor reserves the right occasionally to give brief unannounced written quizzes or exams, although his inclination is to do so only if it appears that people are not keeping up with the reading.

NOTE: Your final paper should consider any aspect of the plays we have read during the semester and ought also to deal with at least one related play or playwright not otherwise read in this class. The more recommended critical writing you can read, the better able will you be to choose a topic for this paper intelligently. DO NOT CHOOSE A TOPIC FOR OR WRITE THIS PAPER WITHOUT FIRST DISCUSSING YOUR PLANS WITH THE INSTRUCTOR. Follow MLA format rules (which you can consult at Van Pelt Library's Reference Desk if you don't already know them) in its preparation.

Death (preferably yours) is the only acceptable excuse for lateness.

In general, the instructor appreciates good writing. He will look with disfavor upon essays, whether short or final papers, that are poorly written. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking.

This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 4:30 P.M. in the Henry Charles Lea Library on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We may occasionally reschedule or relocate in order to accommodate the use of videotapes in class.

As has been noted at the top of this syllabus, the instructor's office is in the Department of Special Collections (also on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library). You can reach him there by telephone (215 898 7088) or in person at that location. Call before showing up. You can communicate with him as well by e-mail at traister@pobox.upenn.edu.


NOTE: Some material will be distributed in photocopy ("bulkpack"). Books to be purchased are available at the Pennsylvania Book Center, still located at 3726 Walnut Street through October.


  1. Three Late Medieval Morality Plays: Mankind, Everyman, Mundus et Infans, ed. G. A. Lester (New Mermaid paperback)

  2. Drama of the English Renaissance, ed. Russell Fraser and Norman Rabkin (Prentice-Hall paperback)
      This text consists of TWO volumes. It is HORRIBLY EXPENSIVE.

  3. Julia Briggs, This Stage-Play World: Texts and Contexts, 1580-1625, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press paperback)
      The second edition is very different from the first edition; the newer edition is the one you should be sure you are getting and reading.


  4. Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (Routledge paperback)

    Real Stakhanovites might want to read, in addition:

  5. either John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford University Press paperback), a basic history of England during the period when the literature read in this course was written

  6. or Penry Williams, The Later Tudors (Oxford University Press paperback), written a few years after Guy's book

  7. and the old standby, neither nasty nor brutish but short, and a predecessor to Julia Briggs's book (above), E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (Vintage paperback)


If he puts any books on reserve in the Rosengarten Reserve Room (Van Pelt Library, basement level), the instructor will distribute separately a list of them. However, students should be aware of the Furness Memorial Library on the sixth floor of Van Pelt, where the large majority of books for this course are to be found. Circulating copies are found mainly on the third floor of Van Pelt.


Week 1--September 10, Thursday
Introduction to the course

Required reading:

Week 2--September 15 and 17
Starting up: a representative non-Shakespearian play

Required reading:

Week 3--September 22 and 24

Required reading:


Week 4--September 29, October 1
A comedy

Required reading:


Week 5--October 6 and 8
Comedy and tragedy

Required reading:


Week 6--October 13 and 15
Christopher Marlowe and history

Required reading:


Week 7--October 20 and 22
Christopher Marlowe, magic, and tragedy

Required reading:


Week 8--October 27 and 29
Domestic tragedy

Required reading:


Week 9--November 3 and 5
Closet drama

Required reading:


Week 10--November 10 and 12
Ben Jonson

Required reading:


Week 11--November 17 and 19
Ben Jonson, continued

Required reading:


Week 12--November 24 (NOTE: November 26 is Thanksgiving)

Required reading:


Week 13--December 1 and 3
Transforming love

Required reading:


Week 14--December 8 and 10
Another tragedy and another comedy

Required reading:


A final paper is due on Friday, December 18, its topic to be chosen IN CONSULTATION WITH THE INSTRUCTOR. A suggestion: you might want to consider one of the plays in either 1 or 2 Fraser-Rabkin in extenso.

APPENDIX: Online resources for the study of English Renaissance drama

The web provides many points of access to literary texts generally and to early modern literary texts specifically (see, e.g., the instructor's own online texts page for such sources), including a wide variety of sites providing multiple texts of and information about Renaissance drama.

These sites are free. Many of them are worth less than they cost. Others provide useful information but still must be used with care. By and large, a surprisingly large amount of un-refereed (unevaluated) material can be found on the web. Caveat emptor!

  1. Alex: A Catalog of Electronic Texts on the Internet can be consulted via the Web.

  2. One useful online text (available here to Penn users; guests may apply at the EB's URL, http://www.eb.com/) is the Encyclopedia Britannica.

  3. A BASIC online text, especially for students of literature, is OED. OED also maintains both real and prototype online websites.

  4. A specialized dictionary resource (for early modern usage) is The Early Modern English Dictionaries Database.

  5. Chadwyck-Healey's Literature Online, a full-text searchable online database, is currently available to people with valid Penn i.p.s

  6. Among texts scanned from early editions of Shakespeare--worth at least a look--found in the Horace Howard Furness Memorial [Shakespeare] Library of the Department of Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt-Dietrich Library are:
    1. the 1623 First Folio Hamlet
    2. the 1619 Quarto King Lear
    3. the 1623 First Folio King Lear
    4. Nahum Tate's The History of King Lear (1681)
    5. King Lear (edited by Alexander Pope, 1723)
    Remember that Shakespeare does not exhaust English Renaissance drama. It will nonetheless be of some interest to you to see what his plays looked like in some of their earliest printed incarnations.

  7. Also available only to people with valid Penn i.p.s is The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism

  8. Two amazingly useful literary sites include:

    1. The Voice of the Shuttle (Alan Liu, University of California at Santa Barbara)
    2. Mitsuharu Matsuoka's Home Page (Nagoya University)

  9. Generally, see:
    1. Jack Lynch's Renaissance resources
    2. The Online Medieval and Classical Library
    3. Renaissance Electronic Texts
    4. Early Modern Literary Studies: Electronic Texts
    5. See the various "Alchemy"--now called "Luminaria"--databases, which include medieval, Renaissance, and seventeenth-century texts, at http://www.luminarium.org/lumina.htm
    6. Perseus Project (Tufts University; so far [9 May 1997], this is a list of texts planned for inclusion at this site)
    7. Center for Electronic Text & Image (in early stages of development and operation at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt-Dietrich Library's Department of Special Collections)
    8. Proper Elizabethan Accents is, as it name indicates, a specialized resource (and can require plug-ins for sound)

  10. For Marlowe, see the Christopher Marlowe site

  11. For Middleton, see the Thomas Middleton Home Page

  12. Richard Bear's Renascence Editions: Works in English, 1500-1799 (University of Oregon) makes available a great deal of primary material

  13. Renaissance Electronic Texts, already listed above, includes The Elizabethan Homilies 1623 and Robert Cawdrey's Table alphabetical of hard usual English words (1604)

  14. For information about and representative examples of emblem books, see, e.g.:
    1. Alciato's Book of emblems
    2. the Compendio de Emblemas Españoles Ilustrados, by John T. Cull, Antonio Bernat Vistarini, and Edward J. Vodoklys, S.J. (Universitat de les Illes Balears and the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA)
    3. the Glasgow University Emblem Website
    4. Pietro Vasolli da Fivizano's Italian translation of Horapollon's Hieroglyphica (printed by Giolito, Venice 1547), part of an in-process project to produce a CD-ROM edition of Cesare Ripa's Iconologia

  15. Renaissance Texts Research Centre, University of Reading (U.K.).

  16. Early Modern Literary Studies (the periodical, not the texts, for which, see above).

  17. Elizabethan monetary equivalents can be helpful

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

Return to Daniel Traister's Home Page.