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PS Violent Renaissance : Course Description

Course Description ^top

film screenings: date/time see Course Schedule, C601
subject area: literature and cultural studies
language: English
reading: Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1587-90); William Shakespeare, Macbeth (1606); Thomas Middleton (Cyril Tourneur), The Revenger's Tragedy (1606/07); John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1613/14); Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, The Changeling (1622/23);
films: Roman Polanski, The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971); Akira Kurosawa, Ran [King Lear] (1985); Julie Taymor, Titus [Titus Andronicus] (1999);
books you need to buy: Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (ed. David M. Bevington, Manchester UP, € 8,49);
William Shakespeare, Macbeth (ed. Kenneth Muir, Arden edition, € 9,20);
Thomas Middleton/John Webster, Five Jacobean Tragedies (Wordsworth Classics, € 6,99);
other texts: A reader will be provided for our first meeting.

film Titus Andronicus

Revenge! Murder! Suicide! Betrayal! Madness! Incest! Witches! Gory violence! No, this is not the tagline of a recent x-rated film... Many Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedies share a morbid obsession with madness, death and decay. Thomas Kyd not only adapts Senecan tragedy for the Elizabethan taste; with The Spanish Tragedy he establishes revenge tragedy as a new genre in English theatre. In Shakespeare's 'Scottish Play' Macbeth famously (and murderously) succumbs to the insinuations of the witches and his wife - while Macbeth ends up seeing ghosts, Lady Macbeth turns into a sleepwalking lunatic. The Revenger's Tragedy (Thomas Middleton) opens with the hero holding a skull - but unlike in Hamlet, the skull is not a prop to spark off a philosophical monologue on questions of mortality and the human state in general; it is the skull of his mistress who has been poisoned. John Webster's eponymous Duchess of Malfi is not only imprisoned but also tormented by her incestuously-obsessed brother, and Middleton's and William Rowley's The Changeling is more than a tale of lust and murder - it also includes a more comic subplot set in a lunatic asylum. In this course, we will explore the aesthetics of violence and madness of these plays and try to situate them in their cultural and historical context. In the last sessions, we will examine how a new medium - film - deals with those problems in the 20th century. As only Shakespeare's plays have been widely adapted for the screen, we will have a look at three stylistically very different adaptations: Roman Polanski's The Tragedy of Macbeth, Akira Kurosawa's Ran (an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear), and Julie Taymor's relatively recent Titus.
Attendance of film screenings (probably after class) is mandatory!!

Spanish Tragedy

Reading List ^top

Students attending this course are expected to shoulder a heavy and demanding reading load. You should therefore have finished reading at least The Spanish Tragedy by the beginning of the term!
We will discuss texts roughly chronologically - except for Macbeth, which, as the last text on our reading schedule, will hopefully enable us to proceed smoothly to the film section at the end of the semester. You will thus have to read the primary texts in the following order:
(01) Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy;
(02) Thomas Middleton (Cyril Tourneur), The Revenger's Tragedy;
(03) John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi;
(04) Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, The Changeling;
(05) William Shakespeare, Macbeth;
All books should be available in bookshops or on the internet! Please buy the editions mentioned above (and take into account that shipping might take up to a fortnight...).