ENGL 81100

Theater as Necromancy: Animating the Dead in Early Modern England

Tanya Pollard – Fall 2017


GC 3308

Office: GC 4409.02

Thursday 2:00-4:00

Phone: 212-817-8351

E-mail: Tpollard@brooklyn.cuny.edu

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

Hours: W & Th 1-2 & by appt.

Early modern playwrights peopled their stages with the undead, not only reviving literary figures from mythic pasts, but also reversing fatalities from within their own plays.  Through these unsettling acts of reanimation, they engaged in a version of necromancy, the dark art of making magic from the dead.  This course will explore the necromantic underpinnings of plays that reflect on the pleasures and dangers of animating the dead and other forbidden magical arts.







Introduction and overview




Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage (ca. 1589); Clare Kinney, “Epic Transgression and the Framing of Agency in Dido Queen of Carthage,” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 40:2 (2000), 261-276; Kathryn Rebecca Van Winkle, “‘Then Speak, Aeneas, with Achilles’ Tongue’: Ethopoeia and Elizabethan Boyhood in Marlowe’s Dido Queen of Carthage,” Theatre Symposium 23:1 (2015), 42-51.




Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (ca 1592); Laurie Maguire, “Helen and the Faust Tradition,” from Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood (Blackwell, 2009), 142-154; Andrew Sofer, “How to Do Things with Demons: Conjuring Performatives in Doctor Faustus, Theatre Journal 61:1 (2009), 1-21.




No CUNY classes




Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (ca. 1602); David Hillman, “The Gastric Epic: Troilus and Cressida,” Shakespeare Quarterly 48.3 (1997), 295-313; Efterpi Mitsi, “Greece ‘Digested in a Play’: Consuming Greek Heroism in The School of Abuse and Troilus and Cressida” in Shakespeare and Greece. Findlay, Alison, and Vassiliki Markidou, eds. (Bloomsbury, 2017), 93-114.




Shakespeare, Pericles (ca. 1607-1608); Lucy Munro, “Shakespeare and the uses of the past: Critical approaches and current debates,” Shakespeare 7:1 (2011), 102-125; F. Elizabeth Hart, “‘Great is Diana’ of Shakespeare’s Ephesus,” SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 43.2 (2003), 347-374.




Shakespeare, Cymbeline (ca. 1609-10); Jeremy Lopez, “Imagining the Actor’s Body on the Early Modern Stage,” Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 20 (2007), 187-203; Robert Fothergill, “The Perfect Image of Life: Counterfeit Death in the Plays of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries,” University of Toronto Quarterly 52.2 (1982), 155-178.




Jonson, Alchemist (1610); John Shanahan, “Ben Jonson’s Alchemist and Early Modern Laboratory Space,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 8:1 (2008), 35-66; Katherine Eggert, “How to Make Fiction,” in Disknowledge: Literature, Alchemy, and the End of Humanism in Renaissance England (U Penn, 2017), 219-230.




Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (1610-11); Erin Minear, “Ghost-Stories and Living Monuments: Bringing Wonders to Life in The Winter’s Tale,” in Enchantment and Dis-enchantment in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama: Wonder, the Sacred, and the Supernatural, ed. Nandini Das and Nick Davis (London: Taylor & Francis, 2016), 170-184; Richard Wilson, “Monstrous to our Human Reason: Minding the Gap in The Winter’s Tale,” in Gothic Renaissance: A Reassessment, ed. Elisabeth Bronfen and Beate Neumeier (Oxford, 2016), 199-217.




Middleton, The Witch (1609-16); Linda Phyllis Austern, “‘Art to Enchant’: Musical Magic and Its Practitioners in English Renaissance Drama,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 115.2 (1990), 191-206; Samuel Schoenbaum, “Middleton’s Tragicomedies,” Modern Philology 54:1 (1956), 7-19.




Rowley, Dekker, and Ford, The Witch of Edmonton (1621); Barbara Traister, “Magic and the Decline of Demons: A View from the Stage,” in Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, ed. Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich (Ashgate, 2015), 19-30; David Nicol, “Interrogating the Devil: Social and Demonic Pressure in The Witch of Edmonton,” Comparative Drama 38:4 (2004), 425-445.




Thomas Heywood’s The Iron Age (ca. 1632); Mark Bayer, “Popular Classical Drama: The Case of Heywood’s Ages,” The Routledge Research Companion to Shakespeare and Classical Literature, ed. Sean Keilen and Nick Moschavakis (Routledge, 2017), 227-235; Misha Teramura, “Brute Parts: From Troy to Britain at the Rose, 1595–1600,” in Lost Plays in Shakespeare’s England, ed. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 127-147.




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 early modern tragedy, and develop research and argumentation skills. By the end of the course, students will be expected to

ü    Demonstrate familiarity with language and conventions of early modern dramatic texts

ü Identify and engage with key issues in recent critical conversations about early modern responses to the dead and the past

ü 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 brief textual passages (6-10 lines), in conversation with critical readings and philological/ etymological information from the Oxford English Dictionary. At the end of the semester you will give presentations on final research projects, which will go through in-class workshopping and subsequent revision before submitting.



            Secondary readings will be available in a Dropbox folder.  For plays, you can use any editions that you like, especially if you already own copies or have access to them from libraries. If purchasing new editions, for Shakespeare, Arden editions are especially thorough and scholarly; for non-Shakespearean texts, Bloomsbury’s New Mermaids editions are very good, and Witch of Edmonton is now available from Arden Early Modern Drama. 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 few relevant suggestions below, and will continue to recommend others based on the group’s developing interests.



Pamela Allen Brown, “Dido, Boy Diva of Carthage: Marlowe’s Dido Tragedy and the Renaissance Actress,” Transnational Mobilities in Early Modern Theater, ed. Robert Henke and Eric Nicholson (Ashgate, 2014), 113-30.

Timothy D. Crowley, “Arms and the Boy: Marlowe’s Aeneas and the Parody of Imitation in Dido, Queen of Carthage,” English Literary Renaissance 38:3 (2008), 408-438.

Susan Harlan, “Interlude–Epic Pastness: War Stories, Nostalgic Objects, and Sexual and Textual Spoils in Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage,” Memories of War in Early Modern England (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2016), 85-114.

Michael Keefer, “‘Fairer than the evening air’: Marlowe’s gnostic Helen of Troy and the tropes of belatedness and historical mediation,” Fantasies of Troy: Classical Tales and the Social Imaginary in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Alan Shepard and Stephen D. Powell (Toronto, 2004), 39-62.

Kristen Poole, “The Devil's in the Archive: Doctor Faustus and Ovidian Physics,” Renaissance Drama 35 (2006), 191-219.



Janet Adelman, “Masculine Authority and the Maternal Body: The Return to Origins in the Romances,” Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origins in Shakespeare’s Plays (1992), 193-238.

Amy K. Burnette, “Bearing Death in The Winter’s Tale,” A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, ed. Dympna Callaghan (Blackwell, 2nd edition, 2016), 440-456;

Darryl Chalk, “Contagious Emulation: Antitheatricality and Theatre as Plague in Troilus and Cressida,” This Earthly Stage: World and Stage in Late Medieval and Early Modern England, ed. Brett D. Hirsch and Christopher Wortham (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 75-101.

Lynn Enterline, “‘You speak a language that I understand not’: The Rhetoric of Animation in The Winter’s Tale,” Shakespeare Quarterly 48:1 (1997), 17-44.

Elizabeth D. Harvey, “Passionate Spirits: Animism and Embodiment in Cymbeline and The Tempest,” The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment, ed. Valerie Traub, (Oxford, 2016), 369-384.

Richard Hillman, “Shakespeare’s Gower and Gower’s Shakespeare: The Larger Debt of Pericles,” Shakespeare Quarterly 36:4 (1985), 427-437.

Richard McCoy, “The Winter’s Tale and the Recovery of Faith,” in Faith in Shakespeare (Oxford, 2013), 113-145.

Kathryn Schwarz, “The Curious Pleasures of the Heroic Corpse,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 4.4 (2013), 439-451.

Robert E. Wood, “The Dignity of Mortality: Marlowe’s Dido and Shakespeare’s Troilus,” Shakespeare Studies 11 (1978), 95-106.



Anthony Miller, “Ben Jonson and ‘the proper passion of Mettalls’,” Parergon 23.2 (2006), 57-72.

Stanton Linden, “Ben Jonson and the Drama of Alchemy,” Darke Hierogliphicks: Alchemy in English Literature from Chaucer to the Restoration (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2015): 118-153.



Willis, Deborah. "Magic and witchcraft." A New Companion to Renaissance Drama (2017): 170.

Diane Purkiss, “Witchcraft in Early Modern Literature,” in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, ed. Brian P. Levack (Oxford, 2013), 122-140.


Rowley, Dekker, and Ford:

Anthony B. Dawson, “Witchcraft/Bigamy: Cultural Conflict in The Witch of Edmonton,” Renaissance Drama 20 (1989), 77-98.

Katherine Walker, “Early Modern Almanacs and The Witch of Edmonton,” Early Modern Literary Studies 18.1 & 2 (2015).



Katherine Heavey, “‘Properer Men’: Myth, Manhood and the Trojan War in Greene, Shakespeare and Heywood,” Journal of the Northern Renaissance 7 (2015).

Charlotte Coffin, “Heywood’s Ages and Chapman’s Homer: Nothing in Common?,Classical Receptions Journal 9.1 (2017), 55-78.


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