This course will consider plays by some famous contemporaries of Shakespeare’s in comparison with a few plays by Shakespeare himself. The reading will concentrate on plays by Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, and John Webster. These will be compared with selected plays by Shakespeare, so that Shakespeare’s plays may be seen in the context of the theater of his own time. This reading provides a means for examining other plays of the period in which Shakespeare wrote, since as Martin Wiggins reminds us, “In his own time, William Shakespeare was one author among many.” These comparisons allow us to consider the distinctive qualities of all these playwrights, and the characteristics that they shared.
Each student will be asked to give two brief reports to the class on a single aspect of one the plays; there will be a research paper on one play not assigned to the class, and three short comparative papers; also a midterm and a final. Active and informed class participation and attendance are required, as is completion of all major papers, exams, and all other assignments.