ENGL 71600: Early Modern Comedy and its Classical Models

Tanya Pollard – Fall 2013

GC 4403

Office: GC 4408

Thursday 4:15-6:15

Phone: 718-951-5000 x6216

E-mail: Tpollard@brooklyn.cuny.edu

Website: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/tpollard

Hours: Thurs 3:15-4:15 & by appt.






Introduction and overview



No class



Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae (411 BCE); Frogs (405 BCE); Plutus (388 BCE); Emmanuela Bakola, Lucia Prauscello, and Mario Telė, “Introduction: Greek Comedy as a Fabric of Generic Discourse,” in Greek Comedy and the Discourse of Genres, ed. Bakola, Prauscello, and Telė (Cambridge: CUP, 2013), 1-12; Helene Foley, “Generic Boundaries in Late Fifth-century Athens,” in Performance, Iconography, Reception: Studies in Honour of Oliver Taplin, ed. M. Revermann and P. Wilson (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 15-36; Pavlos Sfyroeras, “What Wealth Has to do With Dionysus: From Economy to Poetics in Aristophanes’ Plutus,” GRBS 36 (1995), 231-261.



No class



Plautus, Menaechmi (ca. 205-184 BCE) and Amphitryo (ca. 205-184 BCE); Erich Segal, “The Menaechmi: Roman Comedy of Errors,” Yale Classical Studies 21 (1969), 77-93; Pamela R. Bleisch, “Plautine Travesties of Gender and Genre: Transvestism and Tragicomedy in Amphitruo, Didaskalia 4.1 (1997) http://www.didaskalia.net/issues/vol4no1/bleisch.html ; Niall Slater, “Amphitryo, Bacchae, and Metatheatre,” Lexis 5-6 (1990), 101-126.



Terence, The Eunuch (161 BCE); Cynthia S. Dessen, “The Figure of the Eunuch in Terence’s Eunuchus,” Helios 22:2 (1995), 123-139; Stavros A. Frangoulidis, “Performance and Improvisation in Terence's Eunuchus,” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, 48:3 (1994) 121-130.



Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors (ca. 1594); Robert S. Miola, “New Comedic Errors: The Comedy of Errors,” in Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence (Oxford: OUP, 1994), 19-38 (1-17 in Oxford Scholarship Online); Laurie Maguire, “The Girls from Ephesus,” in The Comedy of Errors: Critical Essays, ed. Robert S. Miola (New York: Routledge, 1997), 355-91.



Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream (ca. 1594); Robert S. Miola, “Light Seneca,” in Shakespeare and Classical Tragedy: The Influence of Seneca (Oxford: OUP, 1992), 175-187; David Lucking, “Translation and Metamorphosis in A Midsummer Night's Dream,” Essays in Criticism, 61:2 (2011), 137-154.



Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (ca. 1600); Keir Elam, “The Fertile Eunuch: Twelfth Night, Early Modern Intercourse, and the Fruits of Castration,” Shakespeare Quarterly 47:1 (1996), 1-36; Robert S. Miola, “New Comedic Errors: Twelfth Night,” in Shakespeare and Classical Comedy (Oxford: OUP, 1994), 38-61 (17-36).



John Marston, The Malcontent (ca. 1601); Lucy Munro, “’Grief and Joy so Suddenly Commixt’: Company Politics and the Development of Tragicomedy,” in Children of the Queen's Revels: A Jacobean Theatre Repertory (Cambridge: CUP, 2005); Ian Munro, “Knightly Complements: The Malcontent and the Matter of Wit,” English Literary Renaissance 40:2 (2010), 215-237.



Ben Jonson, Volpone (ca. 1605); Ian Donaldson, “Volpone and the Ends of Comedy,” Sydney Studies 18 (1992), 48-71; Stephen Greenblatt, “The False Ending in Volpone,” JEGP 75:1/2 (1976), 90-104.



Middleton, A Trick to Catch the Old One (1607); William R. Dynes, The Trickster-Figure in Jacobean City Comedy,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 33:2 (1993), 365-384; Joseph Messina, “The Moral Design of A Trick to Catch the Old One,” in Accompaninge the Players: Essays Celebrating Thomas Middleton 1580-1980 (New York: AMS, 1983), 109-32.



Jonson, The Alchemist (ca 1610); Robert N. Watson, The Alchemist and Jonson's Conversion of Comedy,” in Renaissance Genres, ed. Barbara K. Lewalski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 332-367; Sean McEvoy, “Hieronimo’s Old Cloak: Theatricality and Representation in Ben Jonson’s Middle Comedies,” Ben Jonson Journal: Literary Contexts in the Age of Elizabeth, James and Charles, 11 (2004), 67-87.



No class



Presentations of final essay research



Final essay drafts due in class; peer-revision workshop



Revised versions of final essays due

Course Learning Goals:

The goals of this course are to learn to read and analyze classical and early modern comedies, and to develop an understanding of processes of literary reception.  By the end of the course, students will be expected to:

  • Demonstrate close reading skills
  • Demonstrate familiarity with classical and early modern comic conventions
  • Identify and address key issues in genre theory and reception theory
  • Formulate thoughtful questions and clear arguments, in writing and discussion, based on textual evidence



Over the course of the semester, you will contribute actively to discussion; make two informal presentations on the readings; and write three brief analytical essays (no longer than two pages), focusing on close readings of textual passages.  At the end of the semester you will present plans for a final essay, write a draft (12-15 pages), exchange and critique drafts, and revise the essay.

Because discussions will focus on close readings of passages, it is important that everyone bring copies of the plays to class.  If you forget your copy, stop by the library and check one out on the way to class.  Secondary readings will be available on Blackboard.



You are welcome to use any editions of these plays that you would like.  If you own any of these plays already, or can borrow them from a friend or a library, feel free; if you would like to purchase them, there are several options.  Oxford Worlds Classics publishes all these authors, and will give you a discount if you place an order directly with them for 3 or more texts; I recommend them especially for Terence (The Comedies, trans. Peter Brown), Plautus (Four Comedies, trans. Erich Segal), and Aristophanes (Birds and other Plays, trans. Stephen Halliwell).  I note that Oxford’s Plautus selections do not include Amphitryo; for that I recommend Plautus, Four Plays, trans. David Christenson (Focus Publishing); similarly their Aristophanes selections do not include Thesmophoriazusae or Frogs; for those I recommend Frogs and Other Plays (Penguin Classics).  For Jonson, Marston, and Middleton, the New Mermaids series (published by Bloomsbury) are very good (though you can get a responsible and less expensive edition of Jonson from Oxford Worlds Classics).  For Shakespeare texts, I recommend Signet Editions (inexpensive, portable, well-annotated and supplied with useful contexts and critical essays) or for those anticipating further research on a given play, the Arden editions (more expensive, but especially rich in scholarship). 

The Graduate Center does not have a designated bookstore for course orders; we recommend using the Amazon link on the GC website, which earns points for the GC’s own library.

Selected recommended secondary readings (articles available on Blackboard)




Emmanuela Bakola, Lucia Prauscello, and Mario Telė, eds, Greek Comedy and the Discourse of Genres (Cambridge: CUP, 2013).


Thomas K. Hubbard, “Comedy and Self-Knowledge,” in The Mask of Comedy: Aristophanes and the Intertextual Parabasis (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991), 1-15.


James F. McGlew, “After Irony: Aristophanes’ Wealth and its Modern Interpreters,”

American Journal of Philology 118:1 (1997), 35-53.


Michael Silk, “Prologue” and part of “Three Openings,” in Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (Oxford: OUP, 2000), 1-29.


Erich Segal, “The Physis of Comedy,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 77 (1973), 129-36.


Niall Slater, “The Naming of Parts,” and “Cross-Dress for Success: Thesmophoriazusae,” in Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (Philadelphia: U Penn Press, 2002), 1-21 and 151-180.


Oliver Taplin, “Fifth-Century Tragedy and Comedy,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 106 (1986), 163-74.

R. M. Rosen, “Aristophanes, Old Comedy, and Greek Tragedy,” in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. R. Bushnell (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 251-268.


Matthew Wright, The Comedian as Critic: Greek Old Comedy and Poetics (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 2012).




Robin P. Bond, “Plautus’ Amphitryo as Tragi-comedy,” Greece and Rome 46:2 (1999), 203-219.


George E. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy: A Study in Popular Entertainment (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1952)


Kathleen McCarthy, “The Ties that Bind: Menaechmi,” in Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000), 34-76.


Timothy Moore, “Tragicomedy as a Running Joke: Plautus’ Amphitruo in Performance,” Didaskalia  suppl. 1 (1995) http://www.didaskalia.net/issues/supplement1/moore.html


Erich Segal, Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus (Oxford: OUP, 1968, rprt. 87).


Niall Slater, Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985)




Sharon L. James, “From boys to men: Rape and Developing Masculinity in Terence's Hecyra and Eunuchus,” Helios 1998 25 (1), 31-47.


Ortwin Knorr, “Metatheatrical Humor in the Comedies of Terence,” in Terentius Poeta, eds. Peter Kruschwitz et al. (Munich: C. H. Beck Verlag, 2007; Zetemata 127), 167-174.


David Konstan, “Love in Terence’s Eunuch: The Origins of Erotic Subjectivity,” American Journal of Philology 107 (1986), 369-393.


Renaissance Reception:


George E. Duckworth, “The Influence of Plautus and Terence Upon English Comedy,” in The Nature of Roman Comedy: A Study in Popular Entertainment (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1952), 396-441.


Richard F.  Hardin, “Menaechmi and the Renaissance of Comedy,” Comparative Drama

37:3,4, (2003-04), 255-274.


Richard F. Hardin, “Encountering Plautus in the Renaissance: A Humanist Debate on Comedy,” Renaissance Quarterly 60:3 (2007), 789-818.


Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence (Oxford: OUP, 1994).


Wolfgang Riehle, Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition (Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1990).

Matthew Steggle, “Aristophanes in Early Modern England,” in Aristophanes in performance, 421 BC-AD 2007: Peace, Birds and Frogs, ed. Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley (MHRA, 2007), 52-65.




Catherine Belsey, “Twelfth Night and the Riddle of Gender,” in Why Shakespeare? (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), 129-148.


Joseph Candido, “Dining Out in Ephesus: Food in The Comedy of Errors,” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 30:2 (1990), 217-41.


Paul Mueschke and Jeannette Fleisher, “Jonsonian Elements in the Comic Underplot of Twelfth Night,” PMLA 48:4 (1933), 722-740.


Wolfgang Riehle, “Characterization in Plautus and in The Comedy of Errors,” in Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition (Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1990), 44-76.


Karen Robertson, “A Revenging Feminine Hand in Twelfth Night,” Reading and Writing in Shakespeare, ed. David M. Bergeron (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996), 116-130.


Leo Salinger, “The Design of Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare Quarterly 9:2 (1958), 117-139.


Marguerite Tassi, “‘Sportful Malice,’ or What Maria Wills: Revenge Comedy in Twelfth Night,Upstart Crow 27 (2007), 32-50.




Melissa D. Aaron, “’Beware at What Hands Thou Receiv’st Thy Commodity’: The Alchemist and The King’s Men Fleece the Customers, 1610,” in Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage, ed. Paul Menzer and Ralph Alan Cohen (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna UP, 2006), 72-79.


Joachim Frenk, “Jacobean City Comedies: Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside,” in A History of British Drama, ed. Sibylle Baumbach, Birgit Neumann, and Ansgar Nünning (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2011), 95-111.


Andrew Gurr, "Who is Lovewit? What is He?," from Ben Jonson and Theatre, ed. Richard Cave, Elizabeth Schafer, and Brian Woolland (London: Routledge, 1999), 5-19.


Richard Dutton, Volpone and Beast Fable: Early Modern Analogic Reading,” in Huntington Library Quarterly 67 (2004), 347-70.


Raphael Lyne, “Volpone and the Classics,” in Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companion, ed. Garrett Sullivan, Patrick Cheney, and Andrew Hadfield (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 177-188.


Anthony J. Ouellette, “The Alchemist and the Emerging Adult Private Playhouse,” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 45:2 (2005), 375-99.


Geraldo Sousa, “Boundaries of Genre in Ben Jonson’s Volpone and The Alchemist,” Essays in Theatre 4:2 (1986), 134-146.




Annn Blake, “’The Humour of Children’: John Marston's Plays in the Private Theatres,” The Review of English Studies, 38:152 (1987), 471-482.


Donald Hedrick, “The Masquing Principle in Marston’s The Malcontent,” English Literary Renaissance, 8:1 (1978), 24-42.


Jason Lawrence, “Re-Make/Re-Model: Marston’s The Malcontent and Guarinian Tragicomedy,” in Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 155-166.


Nathaniel C. Leonard, “Embracing the ‘Mongrel’: John Marston’s The Malcontent, Antonio and Mellida, and the Development of English Early Modern Tragicomedy,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 12:3 (2012), 60-87.





Celia R. Daileader, “The Courtesan Revisited: Thomas Middleton, Pietro Aretino, and Sex-Phobic Criticism,” in Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 223-38.


Richard F. Hardin, “Middleton, Plautus, and the Ethics of Comedy,” in The Oxford Handbook to Thomas Middleton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 296-311.


Aaron Kitch, “The Character of Credit and the Problem of Belief in Middleton's City Comedies,” SEL 47:2 (2007), 403-426.


Eric Leonidas, “The School of the World: Trading on Wit in Middleton's Trick to Catch the Old One,” Early Modern Literary Studies 12:3 (2007) http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/12-3/leontri2.htm


David B. Mount, “The ‘(Un)Reclaymed Forme’ of Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One,” Studies in English Literature 31:2 (1991), 259-72.


Scott Cutler Shershow, “The Pit of Wit: Subplot and Unity in Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One,” Studies in Philology 88 (1991), 363-81.


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