Brief Description of Course: In our course, we will search for the earliest examples of dramatic texts in the English language. In searching, we will have to expand our understanding of what “dramatic” can mean, then and now, in order to determine what early texts count as examples. In our search for drama — that most raw and public art form — we will necessarily explore the cultures, languages, archives, and histories of Britain in its first thousand years (roughly c.449-1485).
We will survey the earliest known examples of texts from England that call for physicalized action in performance, or for real-time enactment of narrative, or for characterization, or for more than one named speaker in dialogue, or for public showings in distinct playing spaces, and so forth. None of these criteria will sufficiently define the borders of the genre we know as “drama,” then or now (the term “drama” certainly wasn’t used then, for reasons we will discuss). In our hopeless search for origins, however, we will dig through the very idea of drama at its most fundamental levels and develop a broader and deeper understanding of what dramatic texts can do.
The first four weeks of our course will involve thorough, intensive training in how to read and comprehend Middle English (i.e. English as it was recorded from the years 1066 to 1485). Most of our course readings will be in untranslated Middle English — indeed, since some of our course readings have never been translated into present-day English, we will do some translation work ourselves. There is a significant discussion and attendance portion of this course mark. Be prepared to engage actively during every class session.
Required Reading: Selected plays from the York and Chester cycles; selections from John Lydgate’s Mummings and Disguisings; an array of anonymous plays, including Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, Wisdom, the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Jeu D’Adam, Dame Sirith, The Pride of Life.
First Three Authors/Texts: TBA
Method of Instruction: Lecture and discussion.Method of Evaluation: Translation/Edition assignment (17.5%); staging/performance-based analysis essay (22.5%); middle English comprehension quiz (15%); comprehension questions (20%); engagement and participation in class discussions (15%); actual attendance (10%).