Please feel encouraged to 'read ahead' of the dates if you have the time; the sooner you have the reading materials in your mind, the better! Note: For instructions on what is meant by "read" in relation to playscripts, see the important note on the Readings page.

1 Introduction—to an experiment and a century. Genesis meets Galileo To provide some basic grounding in the historical period, to establish the parameters of this subject, and to begin the practice of reading and thinking collectively.  
2 Discussion of Brecht's Galileo To examine one twentieth-century playwright's artistic practice, to establish our abilities and approaches as readers of drama, and to consider the reasons for writing historical drama about a scientist set in the seventeenth century.  
3 Contextualizing Galileo; varieties of history, improvisatory cosmologies To reconsider Brecht's play within a fuller philosophical and historical context, to wrestle with the gap between past and present, and to begin to bring that past to life through creative representation.

Think about your skills, confidence, and background in relation to the six class objectives and group goals for our subject, described on the first pages of this syllabus. Then write out those thoughts in a coherent, lucid way, presenting as well your own (prioritized) goals for the class: this is your preliminary self-assessment.


Interpreting historical documents

Special guest: historian Ann McCants

To learn more about the seventeenth-century historical context, and to learn how an historian approaches primary material. Turn in your preliminary self-assessment (3 pages)
5 A Tale of Two Lears To gain comfort in reading seventeenth-century playscripts; to appreciate a masterpiece, and to understand how drama adapts to its historical moment; to read for meaningful detail, and to compare Tate's reading of Shakespeare's play with your own.

Rehearse reading scenes from the two Lears.

- Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 1 (PDF)
- Tate, Act III excerpt (PDF)

6 Special event: evening film screening of Stage Beauty (Dir. Richard Eyre, 2004)    
7 Scenes read in class, more discussion of two versions of Lear within their theatrical context To learn by doing (theater): to act with confidence; to inhabit language; to realize the power and potential of non-verbal communication.  
8 Five "men of science": Bacon, Burton, Descartes, Boyle and Hobbes. Expert group presentations on each of these natural philosophers To begin reading science historically; to understand the goals and assumptions motivating some of the founders of the "scientific method."  

Jonsonian masque and court culture

Special theatrical guest: Michael Krass, costume designer and head of design at NYU Playwrights Horizons Theater School

To understand theatrical practice in its cultural context; to recognize the shaping role of politics in a work of art.

Begin reading your assigned pair of plays, upon which you'll write your comparative short essay:

- The Broken Heart with The Roman Actor;
- The Cardinal with 'Tis Pity She's a Whore;
- The Rover with The Antipodes

10 The Roman Actor (performed 1626, published 1629) To make connections between the play and the history; to see the way theater history reflects its time.  
11 'Tis Pity She's A Whore (written late 1620s; published 1633) To refine attention to several variables in considering the relationships among theater, an artist's vision, and history; to continue to improve our skills of analytic interpretation.

Generate possible thesis statements for your comparative short essay, based on close textual analysis of a common topic or situation found in both plays.

12 Paper writing: discussion of thesis statements based on your play-reading. Scene work To hone your ability to generate an appropriate thesis statement, paper topic, and evidence-based piece of writing; to build further skill in analyzing theatrical scenes, possibly embodying in theatrical action some of the ideas and techniques you observed in your readings.  
13 The Antipodes (c. 1636, printed 1640) To analyze another example of Caroline drama but of a different genre; to address the special challenges of interpreting social satire and comedy, and to consider the intersection of theatricality and scientific experiment.

Complete your 5-page comparative short essay on your two plays.

14 Reflections upon your essays, historical meltdown, and what came after; with reference to The Broken Heart, The Cardinal, The Rover, The Enchanted Island To see what came next; to refine your oral communication and listening skills, and to educate one another. Comparative short essay due
15 The Puritan Revolution. Discussion of research and extensive essay composition To understand better the complex upheavals that reshaped the world.  
16 Light Shining in Buckinghamshire To see how and why a modern playwright uses historical material from our period, and what it teaches us.

Individual work with primary documents for your analytic research paper.

17 Special event: theatrical field trip to see Richard Goodwin's "Two Men of Florence" at the Huntington Theater Company    
18 Playwriting, day one To begin creating theatrical pieces of writing, building on your experience in this class; to begin to find a theatrical voice.

Work on your various forms of writing

19 Playwriting, day two
20 Sharing of documents and paper ideas  

Thesis statement and précis for research paper due

21 Sharing of documents and paper ideas (cont.)  

Complete your research paper

22 The Country Wife To give the whole class an opportunity to read and spend more time with Restoration comedy, and to reflect upon the ways our reading of it has been enriched by our previous study.

Reflect upon your achievements thus far

23 Poetry of the seventeenth century To delve further into the language of the period and a different form of imaginative expression; to learn more about a great era in the history of this art form. Analytic research paper due one day before this class session
24 Individual meetings with instructors    
25 Tony Kushner's Hydriotaphia To see how and why another modern playwright uses historical material from our period—this time, with the emphasis on philosophy, modernity—and above all, farce!

Finish your revised research paper

26 Discussion of your learning and sharing of your expertise   Final revision of research paper due
27 Dramatic reading of selections from Adriano Shaplin's The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes To enjoy the product of MIT students' labor before you, and to see how our subject can become a drama in its own right  
28 Dramatic reading from The Virtuoso and conclusions To reflect upon the journey from past to present. Final self-assessment due (3 pages)