English 5306.03 - The Restoration Theatre
M: 1930 - 2130, Fall 2005
D. McNeil, 6135 University, New FASS Building #3193 494-3508
Office Hours: Mon. 2-4pm & Thurs. 1-3 pm (call 494-3384 for an
'Gad, I go to a play as to a country treat; I carry my own
wine to one, and my own wit to t'other, or else I'm sure I should
not be merry at either. And the reason why we are so often
louder than the players is because we think we speak more wit,
and so become the poet's rivals in his audience; for to tell you
the truth, we hate the silly rogues, nay, so much that we find
fault even with their bawdy upon the stage, whilst we talk
nothing else in the pit as loud.
Sparkish The Country Wife
This half-year class will focus on the spectacle of the London
theatre from 1660 to 1700. While there is a twentieth-century
emphasis in the theory having to do with cultural spectacle
(e.g., Lacan, Debord, Turner), we will take note of
Backscheider's approach and explore other possible applications
to the Restoration playhouse and court.
Beginning with some reference to the glitter of Davenant's "semi-
opera," Siege of Rhodes (1656), the class will go on to
consider some of the particular aspects of the Restoration stage
that made it a cultural spectacle: actresses on the stage for the
first time (and in breeches!), sexual licentiousness, movable
scenery, Behn's authentic Surinam costume as used in The
Indian Queen the heroic style, the public wit and the stage-
audience interaction. Although the emphasis will be on comedy,
some attention will be paid to heroic tragedy--if only to remark
on the lavish attempts to represent extraordinary action or to
point out how "sentimental comedy" seems to emerge as a meshing
together of comic simplicity with tragic gravity. At least half
the term will be spent on arguably the two most successful
playwrights of the period, John Dryden and Aphra Behn.
We will consider some famous incidents, the various companies
(actors, actresses, directors, owners) and their rivalries, as
well as a good selection of standard and not-so-standard plays.
Hence, in addition to reading the plays (about a dozen), students
will be encouraged to follow Pepys to a performance by examining
excerpts from his diary. The following are some of the questions
to be considered. What played when, where and to what kind of
reception? How did the physical features of the theatre affect
performances? What was the theatre culture like--how
patriarchal, how misogynous? Did the Duke of Buckingham really
stand up when an actress was in the middle of a couplet to finish
it off in his own words? How much drinking, fighting and
flirting really did go on in the audience?
The following will be available on reserve (Debord is available on the
- Backscheider, Paula. Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and
Mass Culture in Early Modern England (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins UP, 1993).
- Debord, Guy.
The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald
Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1994).
Review of foregoing.
- Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-
Analysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1981),
Chapters 6 to 9.
Reproduction of Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors
- Turner, Victor. The Anthropology of Performance (New
York: PAJ Publications, 1987).
Victor Turner Page
- Restoration Drama: An Anthology (Blackwell)
- Aphra Behn. The Rover and Other Plays (Oxford)
2 seminar presentations (20% each) 40%
1 term essay (approx. 4000 words)* 50%
seminar participation 10%
*Students may opt to do one 1500 word essay and one 2500 essay
for 20% and 30% respectively.
Students are encouraged to do joint presentations and essays
(normally twice the length for a two-person presentation, thrice
for three- , etc.). Please see the instructor if you are
interested in such an option.
Tentative List of Plays:
- The Conquest of Granada, I (1670)
- The Rehearsal (1671)
- The Country Wife (1675)
- The Man of Mode (1676)
The Rover, Part I (1677)
- All for Love (1678)
- The Feigned Courtesans (1679)
- Venice Preserved (1682)
- The Emperour of the Moon (1687)
- The Relapse (1696)
- The Busie Body (1709)
David McNeil, Home Page
Last Updated: August 22, 2005