7203X (3158) Early Modern Comedy and its Classical Models

Tanya Pollard – Spring 2013

4109 Boylan

Thursday 4:30-6:10

e-mail: Tpollard@brooklyn.cuny.edu

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

Office: 3108 Boylan

phone: 718-951-5000 x6216

hours: Thurs 3:30-4:30, and by appointment


Long condemned as a second-class literary genre, both aesthetically and morally inferior to tragedy, comedy has consistently annoyed its critics by proving strikingly popular with audiences.  As early modern playwrights experimented with the genre’s possibilities, and explored strategies for legitimating its status without sacrificing its marketable pleasures, they turned to the authority and cultural prestige of classical models.  This course will explore the question of what made comedy so appealing to audiences in both the classical and early modern periods.  We will consider comedy’s relationship to tragedy, tragicomedy, satire, and parody, alongside topics such as disguise, deceit, confusion, recognition, reversal, master-servant relations, money, marriage, appetite, and pleasure. Readings will include Aristophanes’ Plutus, Plautus’s Menaechmi and Amphitryo, Terence’s The Eunuch, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, Jonson’s Volpone and The Alchemist, and Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One.  Regular presentations and short papers will focus on language, close reading, and staging; a final paper will develop research, analytical, and writing skills.











Aristophanes, Plutus (388 BCE)




Plautus, Menaechmi (ca. 205-184 BCE)




Plautus, Amphitryo (ca. 205-184 BCE)




Terence, The Eunuch (161 BCE)




Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors (ca. 1594), 1-3




Comedy of Errors, 4-5; Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (ca. 1600), 1-2




Twelfth Night, 4-5




No class, Easter break




Ben Jonson, Volpone (ca. 1605), 1-3




Volpone, 4-5; Middleton, A Trick to Catch the Old One (1607), 1-2




A Trick to Catch the Old One, 3-5




Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (ca 1610), 1-2




Alchemist, 3-5; presentations on research paper




presentations on research paper




peer-editing workshop; draft of research paper due



final research paper due

Course Requirements and Expectations:


Because your presentations and contributions to class discussion are a central part of your coursework, attendance is crucial.  If you miss more than two classes, your overall grade will drop; at four absences, you may fail the class. Arriving late will count as a partial absence.


I have ordered copies of the plays at Shakespeare & Co (note that Plutus is titled Wealth, in a collection titled Birds and Other Plays, and there are two separate Plautus volumes, each titled Four Plays), but you are welcome to use other editions if you prefer.  If purchasing the books is a problem, there are also texts in the library.  Because discussions will focus on close readings of passages, it is important that everyone has a copy of the play in class.  If you forget your copy, stop by the library and check one out on the way to class.  Recommended secondary readings will be available on Blackboard.


Learning is a collaborative process, which works best when each of you engages fully with the texts and with each other.  To this end, I will expect you to participate actively in class discussions, and you will be required to make frequent presentations.  In order to build a classroom atmosphere of courtesy and concentration, please avoid behavior that is disrespectful and interferes with others’ learning, including rudeness, talking while others are speaking, and ringing from cell-phones, pagers, watches, etc.


Over the course of the semester you will write three short (2 page) papers accompanying in-class presentations, as well as one longer (12-15 pages) research paper.  All written work should have a central claim that is well argued, clearly written, and directly supported by close readings of textual passages; the research paper will also incorporate, and respond to, at least three secondary sources.  All papers should be typed, double-spaced, in a 12-point font, with one-inch margins on all sides.  Punctuality matters: written work is due at the start of class, and lateness will result in lowering of the grade.  Any use of others’ ideas must be fully acknowledged in footnotes; speak to me if you are unsure about what this means.  Plagiarism is a serious offense, and will result in failing the class and being reported to the Dean’s Office.

Coursework and grading:

Presentations and participation

3 short papers (10% each)

Research proposal

Research paper draft

Final research paper








Selected recommended secondary readings (available on Blackboard, except for full books)




Kenneth Dover, “Wealth,” in Aristophanic Comedy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 202-209.


Douglas MacDowell, “Wealth,” in Aristophanes and Athens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 324-249.


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: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1-29.


Alan Sommerstein, “Aristophanes and Demon Poverty,” Classical Quarterly 34 (1984), 314-33.




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


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


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


Timothy Moore, “Tragicomedy as a Running Joke: Plautus’ Amphitruo in Performance,” Didaskalia  suppl. 1 (1995)



Erich Segal, “The Menaechmi: Roman Comedy of Errors,” Yale Classical Studies 21 (1969), 77-93.


Niall Slater, “Amphitryo, Bacchae, and Metatheatre,” in Lexis 5-6 (1990), 101-126.




Cynthia S. Dessen, “The Figure of the Eunuch in Terence’s Eunuchus,” Helios 22:2 (1995), 123-139.


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


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


Renaissance Reception:


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: Oxford University Press, 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 MacMillan, 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.


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: The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night,” in Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 19-61.


Laurie Maguire, “The Girls from Ephesus,” in The Comedy of Errors: Critical Essays, ed. Robert S. Miola (New York: Routledge, 1997), 355-91.


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.




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.


Alexandra Gillespie, “Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist,” in British Writers: Classics, Volume I, ed. Jay Parini (New York: Scribner's, 2003), 1-22.


Ian Donaldson, “Volpone and the Ends of Comedy,” Sydney Studies 18 (1992), 48-71.


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


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


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.




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


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.