Shakespeare’s Brilliant Contemporaries

Winter Quarter, 2018

Tuesday mornings, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Norris University Center

A.  Shakespeare’s Brilliant Contemporaries

Jeffrey Masten, Professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies; Wendy Wall, Professor of English and Director, Kaplan Humanities Institute; Will West, Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies and Chair, Classics

Shakespeare’s brilliant and prolific contemporaries – his friends, collaborators, colleagues, and competitors – produced an outpouring of extraordinary drama in the period between the building of the first commercial London playhouse in 1576 and parliament’s closing of the theaters in 1642. We will explore a hearty selection of these plays, many of which influenced, were influenced by, or are otherwise in conversation with the more familiar Shakespeare canon. Among other greatest hits from this drama, we’ll read the “grandfather” of all revenge tragedies, a play that has become a central text for thinking about the history of homosexuality, several “city comedies” that place on stage (and then skewer) the many social types inhabiting urban London, a play based on a real-life London cross-dresser, and the first original play by an English woman. We’ll explore the plays’ conditions of performance, production, and eventual print publication, as well as their cultural and thematic preoccupations: the relation of plays to the classical, historical, and biblical texts they restage; the place of women and commoners in a hierarchical but increasingly mobile world; the  heterogeneity of a rapidly expanding city and economy; the metadrama of players claiming all the world as stage; and the period’s riveting focus on revenge, heresy, adultery, and incest. Plays by Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, Elizabeth Cary, John Webster, and others.

Recommended anthology (containing all the plays), on order at Norris Center Bookstore and available new and used online: • English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology , ed. David Bevington et al. , (Norton), ISBN-10: 0393976556; ISBN-13: 978-039397655

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