Literature & History

ENG730X: Literature and History: Going Global: Religion, Race, and Sexuality in Early Modern English Drama

Section 1

Mondays, 3:30pm – 5:00pm

Dr. Derrick Higginbotham

Course Description:

Going Global: Religion, Race, and Sexuality in Early Modern English Drama

This seminar concentrates on a key period in early modern English cultural history: the long period when the English attempted to muscle in on global trade markets, typically dominated by the Spanish and Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Eventually, the English succeed in doing so during the seventeenth century with the establishment of plantations in locations like Newfoundland, Virginia, Barbados, and Jamaica. In short, the English changed from bit players in overseas trade to major forces in the socio-economic transformation of the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds. This process produces a distinctive form of early modern globalization, which will be the focus of our study.

In this seminar, students will primarily analyze dramatic texts that emerge from this long moment when the colonial future is not as fully realized as it will be, and the outcomes of contact and conflict with other peoples could not be known in advance. How and why did early modern English audiences make distinctions based on differences in skin color and cultural attributes, especially in the context of intercultural exchanges produced by trade and travel? In what ways do differences in religion, gender, sexuality, and class shape these distinctions? How did the theatre—as genre and institution—distinctly contribute to processing the socio-economic consequences of this globalization? We will be especially attentive to the way that the English stage represents Muslims and Islam since the Ottoman empire, Persian empire, and Moroccan Sultanate proved to be formidable economic and military players in the Mediterranean basin.

We will study theatrical texts from a variety of genres—comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, and adventure plays—and we will read Shakespeare along with other playwrights from the period, including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Heywood, John Fletcher, and Philip Massinger. Throughout, we will scrutinize selected work of historians and cultural theorists, like Nabil Matar, Michael Guasco, Kim F. Hall, and Lara Bovilsky, to facilitate our speculations about how this historical period established legacies with which we continue to grapple, especially the legacies of enslavement and colonization. Such scholarly work will allow us to learn how to employ a historicism informed by feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory as a method of interpreting literary texts, even as this work registers the ways that early modern studies engages with socio-political questions that continue to be pressing.


Response Papers (2 x 1000 words)                                           30%

Blog Responses (5 x 50 words minimum)                                10%

Final Paper Proposal (500 words)                                              10%

Final Paper (10,000 – 11,000 words or about 15 pages)       35%

Conference Paper Presentation                                                   15%

Student Learning Outcomes

In this course, students will:

  • Gain a rich understanding of early modern literary history via theatre, the preeminent cultural institution in the period
  • Identify and describe the differing geographical regions that constitute a global vision of early modern studies
  • Strengthen their skills in historicizing literary texts, indicating a stronger grasp of historicism as a method of analysis
  • Improve their grasp of critical race studies, sexuality studies, and economic history, especially as these theories appear in early modern studies
  • Acquire skills in working across academic disciplines by crisscrossing literary study and historical analysis
  • Better their capacity in crafting a research paper, especially in handling an array of primary and secondary sources to make an argument
  • Conduct oral presentations that effectively convey arguments to your audience

Required Books 

All secondary essays/book selections will be provided in a reader; some of the plays and other texts we will read will be in that reader as well.

Samir Amin. Eurocentrism. Monthly Review Press. Second Edition, 2010.

Daniel Vitkus, ed. Three Turk Plays from Early Modern England. Columbia University Press, 2000.

Brian Gibbons, ed. Christopher Marlowe: Four Plays. Methuen Drama, 2011.

Anthony Parr, ed. Three Renaissance Travel Plays. Manchester University Press, 2000.

William Shakespeare. Othello. Simon and Schuster, 1993.

William Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. Simon and Schuster, 2009

William Shakespeare. The Tempest. Simon and Schuster, 2004

John Fletcher. The Island Princess. Arden Shakespeare, 2013.