ENGLISH 842 - Seminar: An Historical Period
Section: 001 Approaches to Early Modern Drama: Forms and Conversions of Difference
Term: WN 2018
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of department.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing in English, Women's Studies, or English and Education Program. Permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

The public, professional theater of early modern England—the theater of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, Jonson, Middleton, Webster, Dekker, Ford, Heywood, and others—emerged during a time of significant religious, political, social, artistic, and linguistic transformations. It was a form of popular as opposed to elite art, yet it attracted some of the most skilled and inventive poets of the period, whose dramatic verse played a crucial role in the development of a literary vernacular. It was a highly social and public form of art, massively attended and supported by the population of London, yet it was also a controversial phenomenon, regarded as scandalous (or worse) by a number of civic and religious figures. It was, in short, a theater of contradictions and differences, and it used the dialogic and agonistic nature of theatrical performance to explore the contradictions of, and differences between, the diverse and heterogeneous members of its audience.

In this seminar, we will study a range of early modern plays and genres. We will also explore a broad spectrum of methodological and theoretical approaches to the plays, including major movements of the late twentieth century and trends that are more recent and developments, such as post-humanism. We will do our best, despite the fact that we will be reading rather than attending plays in live performance, to understand and learn from the performative nature of the dramatic arts. And we will never forget, despite the fact that theater is a performative art, that early modern English theater is also a highly textual art, poetically crafted, dense with prosodic and other formal riches.

Thematically, the seminar will seek ways to think collectively about forms and conversions of “difference.” By “difference” I mean to include the range of issues that have shaped literary and social criticism since the 1980s, such as race, gender, class, and nationality, but to allow for ways in which such issues were conceived or constructed in the early modern period. This is the period of the reformation. Differences of belief were extreme and sometimes deadly; they were issues that affected everyday lives and thoughts and emotions as well as national politics and international religious conflicts. It was the period in which new worlds, races, and cosmologies, along with new developments in optics, physics, and biology, challenged established ecologies of thought and prejudice. By “forms and conversions,” I mean to emphasize that the fact that the possibility of change is implicit in the recognition of difference, whether such change is constructed as a negative—a fate to be avoided—or as a positive form of conversion. England had five or six different official, required religions in the sixteenth century, and a great percentage of the population converted more than once; those who did not could be risking death. Does the concept of “conversion” provide a kind of master trope for the period’s confrontations with difference, a way of thinking about a wide range of fraught or controversial issues outside of the strictly religious sphere?

The latter is only one of the many questions we might use to frame our inquiry. It has proved a fruitful one for many UM PHD students already, who have been participants (with me) in “Early Modern Conversions: Religions, Cultures, Cognitive Ecologies.”

Students interested in all forms of drama are invited to consider taking this seminar. Each student will make at least one seminar presentation and will also collaborate with another student to shape and conduct discussion during a portion of each weekly meeting. A 20-25 page seminar paper will be due at the end of the term.

ENGLISH 842 - Seminar: An Historical Period
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
Tu 4:00PM - 7:00PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 0393938573
The Norton Shakespeare, Author: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
ISBN: 0231110294
Three Turk plays from early modern England selimus, a christian turned turk, and the renegado, Author: edited by Daniel J. Vitkus., Publisher: Columbia University Press 2000
ISBN: 071366813X
The roaring girl, Author: Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker ; ed. by Elizabeth Cook., Publisher: A. & C. Black 2nd ed. 1997
ISBN: 0713677775
A woman killed with kindness, Author: Thomas Heywood ; edited with notes by Brian Scobie ; introduction by Frances E. Dolan., Publisher: Methuen Drama Rev. ed. 2012
ISBN: 1904271537
The Island Princess., Author: John Fletcher. Edited by Care McManus., Publisher: A & C Black 2012
ISBN: 1472520521
Edward II., Author: Christopher Marlowe ; edited by Stephen Guy-Bray., Publisher: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama 3rd editio 2014
ISBN: 071367766X
The Jew of Malta, Author: Christopher Marlowe ; edited by James R. Siemon., Publisher: Methuen Drama 3rd ed. 2009
ISBN: 0822339145
Queer Phenomenology : Orientations, Objects, Others, Publisher: Duke University Press 2007
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

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