English 624 Renaissance Drama: The Rise of the Will and the Costs of Uncontrolled Passion

Dr. Michael Bryson
Sierra Tower 832



COURSE DESCRIPTION: With cannibalism, prayers offered to the Devil in search of power, power used to take revenge on the wicked (or simply eliminate the inconvenient), and pious hypocrites who speak of mercy while offering none, the drama of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages told stories that Hollywood can only dream of getting away with telling today. Don't read these plays if you are easily offended—the characters you will meet don't care about your modern sensibilities...but if you are not easily offended, we will read a total of fourteen plays by Seneca, and then Shakespeare and his contemporaries Kyd, Marlowe, Marston, Middleton, and Cary which explore the darker sides of human nature through characters who do what they want, no matter the costs.

EVALUATION METHOD: In-class presentation (15-20 minutes overall, done in groups of 2, materials to be copied and distributed to the instructor and all class members); Final research essay (approximately 4000 words). Presentation will count for 1/3 and Final essay for 2/3 of overall grade.

READING LIST: Selected works from Seneca: Anger, Mercy, Revenge, Seneca: The Tragedies, Vol. 1, English Renaissance Drama, and any collected volume of Shakespeare (I favor the Pelican, but any will do).

Statement on Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism is a serious offense that will be treated seriously. Please read the CSUN policy here.

Weekly Preview

Week 1 (1/22): Introductions: Debates over Free Will (Theology and Philosophy); The Apostles of the Will--Faustus, Iago, Edmund, Salome, Lady Macbeth

The Senecan Background

Week 2 (1/29): Anger, Mercy, Revenge (Book One); Thystes; Agamemmnon

Plays of Revenge

Week 3 (2/5): Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy

Week 4 (2/12): William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

Week 5 (2/19): William Shakespeare, Hamlet
(Presentation 1: Saxo Grammaticus, the stoy of Amleth the Dane)

Week 6 (2/26): Thomas Middleton, The Revenger's Tragedy

Week 7 (3/5): John Marston, The Malcontent
(Presentation 2: Children's theatre companies in Early Modern England)

Plays of Jealousy and Betrayal

Week 8 (3/12): William Shakespeare, Othello
(Presentation 3: Moors as African/Moors as Middle Eastern, the differences--The Ottoman Empire and its geographical reach in 1600, and the diplomatic visit of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud to Elizabeth I)

Week 9 (3/19): Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Mariam
(Presentation 4: Early Modern "Woman question": Joseph Swetnam--The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women, 1615; Anonymous--Swetnam the Woman-Hater Arraigned by Women, 1620--check EEBO library database for these)

Week 10 (3/26): William Shakespeare, King Lear
(Presentation 5: Bastardy, Primogeniture, and Arranged Marriage in Early Modern England--see, among other sources, Lawrence Stone: The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England)


Week 11 (4/2) and Week 12--Spring Break (4/9): Off

Plays of Witchcraft and the Devil

Week 13 (4/16): Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
(Presentation 6: The history of anti-witchcraft laws and witchcraft trials in Early Modern England)

Week 14 (4/23): William Shakespeare, Macbeth
(Presentation 7: King James, Daemonologie)

Plays of Anti-Semitism and Greed

Week 15 (4/30): Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta
(Presentation 8: The Blood Libel in Medieval and Early Modern English literature)
(Presentation 9: The trial and execution of Dr. Roderigo Lopez, physician to Elizabeth I)

Week 16 (5/7): William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Final due by 11:59:59 PM on 5/14 by email— no physical submissions of finals.

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