ENGL 81500: Early Modern Tragic Women and their Classical Models

Tanya Pollard – Fall 2015

GC 3310A

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 6:15-7:15 & by appt.

Early moderns identified tragedy explicitly with its origins in the ancient Greek world, and the Greek plays most frequently printed, translated, and staged in the period all featured female protagonists: especially bereaved mothers and self-sacrificing virgins.  This course will explore the way these female tragic icons haunted the early modern stage. We will read classical tragedies popular in the period, and consider their resonances in early modern plays that engage them.







Introduction and overview




Euripides, Alcestis (438 BCE); Niall W. Slater, “Dead Again: (En)gendering Praise in Euripides’ Alcestis,” Helios 27.2 (2000), 105-121; Helene P. Foley, “Anodos Dramas: Euripides’ Alcestis and Helen,” in Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 301-332.




No class




Euripides, Medea (431 BCE); B. M. W. Knox, “The Medea of Euripides,” Yale Classical Studies 25 (1977), 197-202; Edith Hall, “Divine and human in Euripides’ Medea,” in Looking at Medea, ed. David Stuttard (London, 2014), 139-55.




Euripides, Hecuba (ca. 424 BCE); Judith Mossman, “Epilogue,” Wild Justice: A Study of Euripides’ Hecuba (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 210-243; Christian Billing, “Lament and Revenge in the Hekabe of Euripides,” New Theatre Quarterly 23:1 (2007), 49-57.




Euripides, Iphigenia (408-406 BCE); Marianne McDonald, “Iphigenia's ‘Philia’: Motivation in Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis,” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 34: 1 (1990), 69-84; Froma I. Zeitlin, “Art, Memory, and Kleos in Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis,” in History, Tragedy, Theory: Dialogues on Athenian Drama, ed. Barbara E. Goff (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 174-201.




Seneca, Medea (ca 50 CE); Martha Nussbaum, “Serpents in the Soul: A Reading of Seneca’s Medea,” Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art, ed. James J. Clauss & Sarah Iles Johnston (1997), 219-249; Gianni Guastella, “Virgo, Coniunx, Mater: The Wrath of Seneca's Medea,” Classical Antiquity 20:2 (2001), 197-220.




Seneca, Troades (ca. 54 CE); Marcus Wilson, “The tragic mode of Seneca’s Troades,” Ramus 12:1-2 (1983), 27-60; Cindy Benton, “Split Vision: The Politics of Gaze in Seneca’s Troades,” The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body, ed. David Fredrick (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 31- 56.




Lumley, The Tragedy of Iphigeneia (ca. 1555); Stephanie Hodgson-Wright, “Jane Lumley’s Iphigenia at Aulis: Multum in parvo, or less is more,” in Readings in Renaissance Women’s Drama: Criticism, History, and Performance 1594-1998, ed. by S.P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies (London: Routledge, 1998), 129-141; Deborah Uman, “Wonderfully Astonied at the Stoutenes of her Mind: Translating Rhetoric and education in Jane Lumley’s The Tragedie of Iphigenia,” in Performing Pedagogy in Early Modern England: Gender, Instruction and Performance, ed. Kathryn Moncrief and Kathryn McPherson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011), 53-64.




Kyd, Spanish Tragedy (ca. 1587)

Pamela Allen Brown, “Anatomy of an Actress: Bel-imperia as Tragic Diva,” Shakespeare Bulletin 33:1 (2015), 49–65; Adrienne Redding, “Liminal Gardens: Edenic Iconography and the Disruption of Sexual Difference in Tragedy,” Comitatus 46 (2015), 141-169.




Shakespeare and Peele, Titus Andronicus (ca. 1592); Sarah Carter, “Titus Andronicus And Myths Of Maternal Revenge,” Cahiers Élisabéthains 77 (2010), 37-49; Bethany Packard, “Lavinia as Coauthor of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus,”

SEL 50:2 (2010), 281-300.




Shakespeare, Hamlet (ca. 1600); Elaine Showalter, “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibility of Female Criticism,” in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (London: Methuen & Co., 1985), 77-94; Katharine Goodland, “The Gendered Poetics of Tragedy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet,” in Female Mourning in Medieval and Renaissance English Drama (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 171-200.




Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (1610-11); Helen Hackett, “‘Gracious be the issue’: Maternity and Narrative in Shakespeare’s Late Plays,” in Shakespeare’s Late Plays: New Readings, ed. Jennifer Richards and James Knowles (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1999), 25-39; Sarah Dewar-Watson, “The Alcestis and the Statue Scene in The Winter’s Tale,” Shakespeare Quarterly 60:1 (2009), 73-80.




No class (Thanksgiving)




Presentations of final essay research




Final essay drafts due in class; peer-revision workshop




Revised versions of final essays due



Course Goals:

      The goals of this course are to improve close reading skills, explore a range of critical approaches to classical and early modern tragedy, and develop research and argumentation skills. By the end of the course, students will be expected to:

* Demonstrate familiarity with key aspects of classical tragic models and their early modern reception

* Identify and address key issues in recent critical conversations about tragedy and its gendering

* Formulate thoughtful questions and clear arguments, in writing and discussion, based on textual evidence



            Students will be expected to contribute actively to discussions; make two brief presentations on the readings; and write three brief analytical essays (no longer than two pages each) on close readings of textual passages, in conversation with the critical readings and/or philological resources.  For texts in English, I recommend close work with the Oxford English Dictionary; if you can read Greek and/or Latin, close attention to diction in the classical texts would be welcome. At the end of the semester you will give a presentation of your final research project, write a complete draft of the essay (12-15 pages), exchange and critique drafts, and submit a revised version of your final term paper.



            Secondary readings will be available in a Dropbox folder.  You can use any editions of the plays that you would like; we will discuss variant translations with the classical material, and I will bring original language texts so that we can discuss translation choices. For Euripides, some good options include Chicago’s Euripides series (Euripides I, Alcestis and Medea; Euripides II, Hecuba; and Euripides V, Iphigenia in Aulis).  For Seneca, Emily Wilson’s translations for Oxford World’s Classics are excellent. Penguin’s paperback edition of Lumley’s Iphigenia (Three Tragedies by Renaissance Women, ed. Diane Purkiss) is out of print, but you may be able to find an edition used or from a library; the Malone edition is available online, and I’ll include it in Dropbox for ease of access.  Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy is available in an excellent new Arden edition, ed. Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch, and you can find several other good paperback versions as well.  For Shakespeare, Signet Editions are inexpensive, well annotated and supplied with useful critical essays; the Arden editions are more expensive, but especially rich in scholarship; numerous other editions are also very good. The Graduate Center does not have a designated bookstore; they recommend the Amazon link on the GC website, which earns points for the GC’s library, but you are welcome to find books any way you like.

Selected recommended secondary readings

            Beyond the assigned readings in Dropbox, you may wish to consult additional criticism on these plays.  I list a very few relevant suggestions below, and will continue to recommend others based on the group’s developing interests.

Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays, Hamlet to the Tempest (London: Routledge, 1991).

Helene P. Foley, Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001).

Malcolm Heath, “‘Jure principem locum tenet’: Euripides’ Hecuba,” in Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 34 (1987), 40-68.

Chris Laoutaris, Shakespearean Maternities: Crises of Conception in Early Modern England (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).

Naomi Liebler, ed. The Female Tragic Hero in English Renaissance Drama (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002).

Nicole Loraux, Mothers in Mourning, trans. Corinne Pache (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).

Nicole Loraux, Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman, trans. Anthony Forster (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987).

Tanya Pollard, “What’s Hecuba to Shakespeare?,Renaissance Quarterly 65:3 (2012), 1060-1093.

Phyllis Rackin, Shakespeare and Women (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Mary Beth Rose, “Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender Representation in the English Renaissance,” Shakespeare Quarterly 42:3 (1991), 291-314.

Seth Schein, “Philia In Euripides’ Medea,” in Cabinet of the Muses, ed. Mark Griffith and Donald Mastronarde (Atlanta, 1990), 57-73.

Charles Segal, “Violence and the Other: Greek, Female, and Barbarian in Euripides’ Hecuba,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 120 (1990), 109-131.

Giulia Sissa, Greek Virginity, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Marguerite Tassi, “Wounded Maternity, Sharp Revenge: Shakespeare’s Representations of Queens in Light of the Hecuba Myth,” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 37.1 (2011), 83-99.

Helen Wilcox, “Gender and Genre in Shakespeare’s Tragicomedies,” in Reclamations of Shakespeare, ed. A. J. Hoeneslaars (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994), 129-138.

Douglas B. Wilson, “Euripides’ Alcestis and the Ending of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale,” Iowa State Journal of Research 58 (1984), 345-55.

Froma Zeitlin, Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).


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