Theatre in Shakespeare’s time was both wildly popular and considered immoral and dangerous. About 21,000 Londoners --over a tenth of the city’s population--visited the theatre every week. Many others saw it as encouraging vice and rebellion—the plays had to be passed by a censor, and eventually the theatres were shut down by the state.
In this course we will read some of the most popular plays of the period to examine both its appeal and the dangers it was seen to pose. Who visited the theatre and why? How did it shape ideas about gender and sexuality, racial and cultural difference, the family and the nation? We will read dramas of crime and punishment, wars and kings, Africans and Jews, as well as wayward women, ideal wives, and love of all kinds. Alongside the plays we will look at other cultural documents that shaped theatre, such as maps, travel stories, and books of advice to women.
Readings will likely include Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest, Webster’s The White Devil, and Middleton’s The Changeling. Requirements include regular attendance and participation, weekly blog posts, a mid-term and a final exam.