Course Meeting Times
Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session
Includes two evening events (film screening and theater trip)
Welcome to our World!
This class focuses on a time and place of crucial importance in the development of modern science and technology, thought and theater: England during the seventeenth century. The century begins with the trailblazing Renaissance writing of Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare, whose world is subsequently transformed by every kind of upheaval: civil, philosophical, political, religious, epidemiological, you name it. Great changes in both thought and society are catalyzed by a moment in which the very nature of the cosmos and humanity's place in it shifts.
It is a time of schisms and revolution. In 1649, Charles I of England is beheaded and a new government, a Commonwealth, is created—though soon enough the nation is ruled by a military-minded Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. The bloody battleground of civil war will find its reflection in a battle over how knowledge and authority are determined. Physics will begin to unbraid itself from metaphysics. Chemistry will begin to emerge from alchemy. And central to all of this will be the burning question: Where is God in the equation?
"Whereas... the distracted estate of England, threatened with a cloud of blood by a civil war, calls for all possible means to appease and avert the wrath of God,... it is therefore thought fit and ordained by the Lords and Commons in this Parliament assembled, that... public stage plays shall cease and be forborne." A Puritan Parliament issued this edict in September 1642. The theaters would not be officially reopened until 1660 with the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England, in one of his first acts as king. This seems an improbable time, then, to choose for an examination of theater. It is, however, in this liminal time (a time of transition) that we can examine theater in its most deeply rooted context. We know the plays that precede the closing; we know the plays that follow the end of theater's "Time of Silence." In this class we will look closely at the contextual world that creates the plays on both sides of the rupture.
The primary theme of the class is to explore a world turned upside down, with special attention to the "theatricality" of the new models and perspectives afforded by social change and scientific experimentation. Its primary goal is to comprehend the time in its complexity and interconnectedness, and to use that knowledge to think and act creatively in the present. We aim for intellectual and experiential fullness rather than linear simplicity or an easy sense of mastery. There is nothing easy about making great theater or great drama, and it is all too easy to fail because one has failed to appreciate and harness the underlying causes and conditions that create a theatrical world. The same may hold true for great science, and great social change.
To this end, our readings and discussions will explore topics in history, religion, natural philosophy, mathematics, literature, cosmology, drama, theater history and cultural history. We will examine a large number of source texts: from plays by Shakespeare and Massinger to Tate and Wycherly, and essays from Bacon and Burton to Hobbes and Boyle. We will supplement these with critical and contextual readings by writers of our own time, sometimes divvying up the labor. Together, we will read contemporary plays by Brecht, Kushner, Barker and Churchill that wrestle with this historical period and with science. Guest speakers will share with us expertise in their fields—from history to professional theater. The goal is for you to gain knowledge and insight that you will demonstrate and share in written self-analyses, one short paper, a longer analytical paper (which will then be revised), intense daily conversations, oral presentations, and finally in the creation of theatrical scenes.
A final note on theater and the inspiration for this class: no theater is only about the past; it is always about our present. Just as we will explore this period for its context, we will always be drawing analogies to our present, most especially in class discussions and in the scenes you write.
This subject requires that you be willing to try to think deeply, pursue research independently, write cogently, play constructively, and contribute creatively to daily discussion and all group projects.
21L.016/21M.616 is a HASS-D / CI (Humanites, Arts and Social Sciences - Distribution / Communication Intensive) subject. The CI requirements will be satisfied by
- More than the required minimum of 20 pages of writing in 3-5 assignments.
- Revision and resubmission of an analytic essay and a theatrical monologue.
- An oral component including extensive oral discussion, short oral presentations, and performed reading and scene work.
Written work should be double-spaced, with standard margins and font sizes: we can recognize variations from the norm.
Regarding class attendance: You can't put on a play if the actors don't show up. You can't pass this class if you aren't here to participate in discussions, group work, and performances. It's that kind of class. You may miss two classes over the course of the semester if necessary. If you miss a third (or more) we require a letter from a Counseling Dean explaining the absence(s) irrespective of the circumstances. You may not, however, take one of your absences on a day when you are scheduled to present in class, whether solo or in a group. Absences beyond the permitted two will cause your grade to suffer. You must submit a written summary of the assigned reading of any and all classes you miss.
Finally: You cannot participate well if you are asleep, nearly asleep, or woozy with illness or exhaustion. Please take care of yourself—which obviously includes your body. Bring (unobtrusive) food and drink to class if this is helpful.
|Comparative short essay on a particular topic within two plays (5 pages)
|Analytic research paper (10 pages: first version 20%, revision 10%)
|Performance, group, and scene work
|5-minute oral research presentation
|Active participation, including thorough reading of assigned materials before class, discussion in class and attendance at required writing tutorials
In addition to our group participation in these ventures – and adventures – we ask you to keep these six objectives of the subject in mind:
- To provide the tools and nurture your ability to read a variety of genres (including drama, philosophical essays, and scholarly writing) more seriously, pleasurably, and critically; we hope this will encourage you to remain a reader of challenging material throughout your life.
- To increase your consciousness of historical, political, scientific, philosophical, religious and artistic questions and approaches to the world, so that you can function more sensitively, intelligently and effectively in the world.
- To encourage a clearer understanding of your own personal skills and creativity, increasing your self-awareness and the accuracy of your self-analysis, so that you can sustain a realistic sense of confidence and are better positioned to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.
- To improve and refine your abilities to express and communicate ideas, feelings, and arguments effectively and persuasively, so that you can know what you believe and can contribute and lead as a member of a team or community.
- To encourage your understanding and enjoyment of the past and present, of art and science, of individual achievements and the shaping role of social organizations—and your awareness of the relationships among all of the above.
- To accustom you to the discipline of digesting new material and taking responsibility for communicating it clearly in a collaborative setting.
Brecht, Bertolt. The Life of Galileo. Translated by R. Manheim and J. Willett. New York, NY: Arcade Publishing, 1994. ISBN: 9781559702546.
Churchill, Caryl. "Light Shining in Buckinghamshire." In Plays: One. London, UK: Methuen, 1985. ISBN: 9780413566706. [Preview in Google Books]
Ford, John. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Other Plays. Edited by Marion Lomax. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780192834492. [Preview in Google Books]
Kushner, Tony. Death and Taxes: Hydriotaphia and Other Plays. New York, NY: Theatre Communications Group, 1998. ISBN: 9781559361569. [Preview in Google Books]
Massinger, Philip. The Roman Actor. Royal Shakespeare Company Classics Series. London, UK: Nick Hern Books, 2003. ISBN: 9781854596970. [Preview in Google Books]
McMillin, Scott, ed. Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Comedy. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Norton Critical Editions, 1997. ISBN: 9780393963342.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Edited by R. A. Foakes. London, UK: Arden Shakespeare, 1997. ISBN: 9780174434603. [Preview in Google Books]
Tate, Nahum. The History of King Lear.
Additional required selections, plus supplemental and individually assigned readings, will be provided as the semester progresses.
The Literature Section has formulated this statement and policy for all plagiarism cases:
Plagiarism—use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available in Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.