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358:313 Drama in the Age of Shakespeare

H6  7/11-8/17  CAC  MW 6:00-9:40 PM  04737  PIRRI  SC-216

Pageants, Parades, and Masquerades: Festive Theatricality in Shakespeare's England

The English Renaissance has typically been associated with the rise of public theaters such as The Globe. But when we discuss English theatricality within the context of its larger history, stage drama is only part of the picture. The Renaissance also saw the rise of street theater, improvisational performance, urban pageants, and court masquerades which were accompanied by elaborate machines, props, scenery, and sound.

In this class, we'll examine the popular tradition of non-dramatic or “festive” theatricality in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. We will begin with the theater of the late middle ages where pageant wagons would be rolled through the streets performing narratives from the Bible. We'll then follow Elizabeth I's progress through the countryside and read through eyewitness accounts, scripts, and letters about the small pageants that were staged at each stopping point along her route. These pageants often lasted for days and would use natural landscape formations such as fields, hills, ponds, and bridges as temporary stages, turning the countryside into a theatrum mundi: a world theater. Next, we'll turn to 17th century Lord Mayor's Shows, where all of London would come together to celebrate the contributions of local laborers and artists. Urban performers would use plaster arches, paper mache statues, and even fountains flowing with wine as temporary stages for street theater. We will conclude our course by looking the work of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson to consider how festive theatricality might have influenced English Renaissance drama.

Examining the intersections between these different kinds of theater will help us to answer the following questions: How is stage performance different than street performance? How can we explain the transition between religious and secular theater? How do theatrical traditions from Italy and France influence theater in England? How can we know what festive theatricality was like if we don't have access to the props or scenery? What is the connection between Renaissance theatricality and contemporary performance art?

Students will be expected to complete several short close reading assignments, one medium length paper, and one research project.