Props, Prosthetics, and Cosmetics: Constructing Embodied Difference on the Early Modern English Stage
University of Pittsburgh, Department of Theatre Arts, Fall 2017
This undergraduate seminar will explore the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries with a focus on the role of theatrical properties, body paint, and prosthetics in constructing identity—particularly gender and race—on the all-male English stage.
The early modern English theatre scene was a highly competitive marketplace. We will carefully examine a number of performance conventions within the context of the theatre as a commercial enterprise, including gender disguise, blackface, and pregnancy plots—as well as how these conventions changed over time. We will consider whether these changes arose from public demand and popularity, and how we might come to determine such things in a period with very few surviving performance records.
Readings will include canonical plays by William Shakespeare (Winter’s Tale, Othello) as well as work by Ben Jonson (Epicoene), and John Ford (‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore). We will also read a number of plays that are rarely—if ever—performed today, including The Second Maiden’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton and The Fatal Contract by William Heminges. In addition to the dramatic literature, students will read contemporary criticism and recent historical scholarship to jumpstart our seminar discussions.
This is a writing intensive class. Students will engage the material through discussion, original, critical writing, and revision. The writing and reading for the class will be extensive and every student will produce at least 20–24 pages of original writing over the course of the semester. In addition, students will have the opportunity to receive feedback on their writing and revise their argument, style, and research accordingly. Though it will not be required, students will have the opportunity to engage the material through performance.
By the end of the semester, students will have achieved:
- An understanding of theatre as part of a lucrative entertainment industry
- An awareness of the fact that the city of London, the physical spaces of the early modern playhouses, and a number of material and cultural factors—props, music, special effects, audience expectations—shaped the plays written in this period and, by extension, inform the printed play editions that we now read
- An understanding of the actor’s body as centrally important to early modern drama
- A consideration of the emotional effects and impact of live drama upon historical and contemporary audiences
- A facility with script analysis and the reading of play-texts for embedded stage directions
Select Past Courses
- Voice and Diction, Parkland College
- History of the Theatre, Parkland College
- History of the Theatre I, University of Illinois
- History of the Theatre II, University of Illinois
- Fundamentals of Acting
- Introduction to Public Speaking
- Literature of the Modern Theatre
- Dramatic Analysis
- Dramaturg’s Workshop
- Introduction to Theatre Arts