ENGL 81100

Scandalous Hybrids: Tragicomic Illegitimacy in Early Modern Plays and Classical Models

Tanya Pollard – Fall 2016


GC 3305

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.

This course will explore the perils and pleasures of merging dramatic genres, through reading both theory and practice of tragicomedy in early modern texts and their classical models.  Topics will include the scandal associated with generic hybridity, the ambivalence linked with satisfying perceived audience desire, and the running association between tragicomic illegitimacy and bastard offspring.







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.




Plautus, Amphitryo (ca. 205-184 BCE); 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.




Giraldi, from Discorso (1554); Guarini, from The Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry (1599); Javitch, “The Emergence of Poetic Genre Theory in the Sixteenth Century,” Modern Language Quarterly 59.2 (1998): 139-169; Sarah Dewar-Watson, “Aristotle and Tragicomedy,” Early Modern Tragicomedy (2007), 15-27.




Philip Sidney, Defense of Poesy (1595); Cyrus Mulready, “‘Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other’: Sidney’s Unities and the Staging of Romance,” in Romance on the Early Modern Stage (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 52-77; John Roe, “Theories of Literary Kinds,”




Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99); Michael Neill, “‘In Everything Illegitimate’: Imagining the Bastard in Renaissance Drama,” The Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993), 270-292; Patricia Parker, “Cymbeline’s Much Ado about Nothing, Noting, (K)not Knowing, and Nothus,” Actes des congrŹs de la Société franćaise Shakespeare 31 (2014): 103-121.




No class: CUNY runs Monday schedule




Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (ca. 1602); Matthew A. Greenfield, “Fragments of Nationalism in Troilus and Cressida,” Shakespeare Quarterly 51:2 (2000), 181-200; Heather James, “‘Tricks we play on the dead’: Making History in Troilus and Cressida,” in Shakespeare’s Troy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 85-119.




Shakespeare, Pericles (ca. 1607-1608); Lori Humphrey Newcomb, “The Sources of Romance, the Generation of story, and the Patterns of Pericles Tales,” Staging Early Modern Romance: Prose Fiction, Dramatic Romance, and Shakespeare (2008), 21-46; Caroline Bicks, “Backsliding at Ephesus: Shakespeare's Diana and the Churching of Women,” Pericles: Critical Essays, ed. David Skeele (Hove: Psychology Press, 2000), 205-27.




Shakespeare, Cymbeline (ca. 1609-10); Robert S. Miola, “‘Wrying but a little’? Marriage, punishment, and forgiveness in Cymbeline,” Shakespeare and Renaissance Ethics (2014), 186-210; J. K. Barret, “The Crowd in Imogen's Bedroom: Allusion and Ethics in Cymbeline,” Shakespeare Quarterly 66:4 (2015), 440-462.




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; Aaron Kitch, “Bastards and Broadsides in The Winter's Tale,” Renaissance Drama 30 (1999), 43-71.




Middleton, Chaste Maid in Cheapside (ca 1613); Jennifer Panek, “‘A Wittall cannot be a cookold’: Reading the Contented Cuckold in Early Modern English Drama and Culture,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 1:2 (2001), 66-92; Gail Kern Paster, “The Ecology Of The Passions In A Chaste Maid In Cheapside and The Changeling,” The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Middleton, ed. Gary Taylor and Trish Thomas Henley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 1-20.




Middleton, The Witch (1609-16); Elizabeth Shafer, “Introduction,” Middleton, The Witch (2014); Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge, “Introduction: The Witch,” Three Jacobean Witchcraft Plays (1986).




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:

Ÿ    Demonstrate familiarity with key aspects of classical tragicomic models and their early modern reception

Ÿ Identify and address key issues in recent critical conversations about tragicomedy

Ÿ 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 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 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, as will Giraldi and Guarini.  For Sidney and plays, you can use any editions that you like, especially if you already own copies or have access to them from libraries; we will discuss variant translations with the classical material. If you will be purchasing new editions, for Alcestis, I recommend Chicago’s Euripides I; for Amphitryo, I recommend Four Plays, trans. David Christenson (Focus Publishing). 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. For Middleton, I recommend New Mermaids editions, unless you expect to read enough Middleton that you’ll want the Oxford Complete Middleton.  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.


William Babula, “‘Nature’s Bastards’ and Painted Maids: Artifice in Shakespeare’s Romances,” Journal of the Wooden O Symposium, 2002.


Catherine Belling, “The purchase of fruitfulness: Assisted conception and reproductive disability in a seventeenth-century comedy,” Journal of Medical Humanities 26:2-3 (2005), 79-96.


Lee Bliss, “Pastiche, burlesque, tragicomedy,” The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003): 228-253.


Bonavita, Helen Vella, “‘In Everything Illegitimate’: Bastards and the National Family,” M/C Journal 17:5 (2014), http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/897


Sarah Dewar-Watson, “The Alcestis and the Statue Scene in The Winter’s Tale,” Shakespeare Quarterly 60:1 (2009), 73-80.


Sarah DewarWatson, “Shakespeare and Aristotle,” Literature Compass 1:1 (2004), 1-9.


Michelle M. Dowd, “Desiring Subjects: Staging the Female Servant in Early Modern Tragedy,” in Working Subjects in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Michelle M. Dowd and Natasha Korda (Burlington: Ashgate, 2011), 131-144.


Jean Feerick, “A ‘Nation... Now Degenerate’: Shakespeare's Cymbeline, Nova Britannia, and the Role of Diet and Climate in Reproducing Races,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1.2 (2003), 30-71.


Alison Findlay, Illegitimate Power: Bastards in Renaissance Drama (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994).


Valerie Forman, Tragicomic Redemptions: Global Economics and the Early Modern English Stage (Philadelphia: U Penn Press, 2008).


Lorna Hutson, “Probable Infidelities from Bandello to Massinger,” in Staging Early Modern Romance: Prose Fiction, Dramatic Romance, and Shakespeare, ed. Mary Ellen Lamb and Valerie Wayne (New York: Routledge: 2009), 219-235.


Gary Kuchar, “Rhetoric, Anxiety, and the Pleasures of Cuckoldry in the Drama of Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton,” Journal of Narrative Theory 31:1 (2001), 1-30.


Gordon McMullan and Jonathan Hope, eds, The Politics of Tragicomedy: Shakespeare and After (Taylor & Francis, 1992).


Gordon McMullan, Shakespeare and the Idea of Late Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).


Subha Mukherji and Raphael Lyne, eds, Early Modern Tragicomedy (Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 2007).


Simon Palfrey, Late Shakespeare: A New World of Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).


Eve Rachele Sanders, “Inferiority and the Letter in Cymbeline,” Critical Survey 12:2 (2000) 49-70.


Simon Reynolds, “Cymbeline and Heliodorus’ Aithiopika: The Loss and Recovery of Form,” Translation and Literature 13:1 (2004), 24-48.


Simon Reynolds, “Pregnancy and Imagination in The Winter’s Tale and Heliodorus’ Aithiopika,” English Studies 84:5 (2003), 433-447.


Valerie Wayne,  “Romancing the Wager: Cymbeline’s Intertexts,” Staging Early Modern Romance: Prose Fiction, Dramatic Romance, and Shakespeare, 163-87.