Drama to 1660: Playing with Faith, Love, and Power
We will begin where English drama itself began as an outgrowth of the church, specifically with “miracle,” “mystery,” and “morality” plays that functioned as instruction to the Christian faithful. We will then move to the evolving professional theater of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, discussing the material contexts of the London public stage as well as the complex world of power and art that produced the Renaissance court masque. In addition, we will also examine the anti-theatrical movements that culminated in the Puritan’s closing of the theaters in the mid 17th century. While often overshadowed by him, Shakespeare’s fellow dramatists were a remarkable group. Like Shakespeare, they wrote plays that boldly challenged both the social and political received wisdom of their time. This course will look at the themes of faith, love and power, through the lens provided by dramatists who consistently refused to bow to convention in the religious, political or the domestic spheres. Many, if not most of the plays we will be reading combine all three themes. These works explore the disruption caused by such characters as: the scholar who sells his soul for power and sex, the romantic rebellious queen, the sexually predatory tyrant, the gay king and his favorites, and the teenage girl whose purity and faith defeat a world of corruption. Along with the anonymous medieval masters, we will be reading Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, Middleton, Jonson, Ford, and Milton.