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 appointment)

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'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?

Theoretical Background:
The following will be available on reserve (Debord is available on the WWW):


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:

Tentative Syllabus
Related WWW-sites:

David McNeil, Home Page

Last Updated: August 22, 2005