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HS Jacobean Tragedy : Course Description

Course Description ^top


subject area: literature
language: English

recommended literature:
Aebischer, Pascale (2010). Jacobean Drama: A Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.
Smith, Emma and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr., eds. (2010). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

A mother is forced to eat a dish that contains the limbs of her sons, one mad revenger uses the poisoned skull of his fiancée to kill her seducer, while another mad revenger sprinkles his father's grave with the blood of his opponent's son... these are scenes from the first three texts we will discuss in this course, which will cover tragedies from the late Elizabethan era to the Jacobean Age. These plays by Shakespeare and his often little canonised contemporaries are (in)famous for their excessive violence and gory details, their morbid atmosphere, and their social criticism. In discussing these tragedies, we will look into early modern depictions of violence and their dependence on generic developments (the revenge tragedy) and early modern discourses (anatomy, the anxiety about the stability of gender roles, the development of English law, the status of the English monarch). Our theoretical framework will be based on Georges Bataille's Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, and Antonin Artaud's concept of the 'theatre of cruelty'.

Please note that attending this course entails a heavy reading load as we will read and discuss early modern (source) material and contemporary theory (Bataille, Douglas, Artaud) in addition to the primary texts. You should therefore have finished reading at least Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Marston's Antonio's Revenge by the beginning of winter term (see below for the complete reading list). Ideally, you should have some background knowledge of Shakespeare's Hamlet as an important intertextual source for Antonio's Revenge and The Revenger's Tragedy. Additionally, all course members are expected to join an expert group that is responsible for the structuring of one session.

Reading List ^top

(1) William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus (1594) (please buy the Arden edition)
(2) John Marston, Antonio's Revenge (1601)
(3) Thomas Middleton, The Revenger's Tragedy (1606)
(4) John Webster, The White Devil (1612)
(5) Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Maid's Tragedy (1619)
(6) Thomas Middleton, Women Beware Women (1623-24?)
A reader with mandatory material and background reading for the expert groups will be available via StudOn.