Sunday, August 19, 2007

Which Chronology?

I'm teaching a class this coming term on early modern English history plays. I'm excited, and a bit nervous, since there are a ton of plays I haven't taught before on the syllabus.

I keep looking at the syllabus and thinking about how I'm arranging it.

I started off with the plays in chronological order of probable writing/performance. That's useful in terms of theatrical history. But most of my students aren't likely to be really strong in terms of political history, so how confusing is it to read, say, a play about Richard III before a play about Richard II?

And theatrical history-wise, will my students really make strong distinctions between plays written for the Theatre and plays written for the Globe? I don't, generally. How about Blackfriars? (And we'll be doing plays written as much for other theaters/conditions.)

So, I'm thinking of organizing sort of broadly in theatrical history terms:

Early/Academic/Pre-professional Theater

Professional Theater/Armada/Nationalism

Professional Theater/Later/Jacobean


I'm also thinking of having a short student presentation for each play: a five minute introduction to the writer (when known), early production history, publication history, maybe contextual stuff?

Maybe another quick introduction to the historical figure(s) in the play.

And then a longer discussion leading group who will be responsible for choosing a couple passages they want to talk about. I haven't felt particularly successful with getting students to lead discussions in the past, so I'm thinking that asking them to focus on a couple of passages they think are really interesting, and then working through those passages together with their questions and ideas might work. Ideas, folks?


I've never done a class with so many non-single author plays before!


  1. Anonymous12:24 PM

    "But most of my students aren't likely to be really strong in terms of political history, so how confusing is it to read, say, a play about Richard III before a play about Richard II?"

    This might be a good discussion point to make. Why does Shakespeare make Richard III a stand-alone play beyond the Henriad? Certainly, Richard III is a more character-driven play than the Henriad, although Henry V is such a rich character. Maybe you could discuss what Elizabethans thought made a good king with Henry V and Richard III as examples?

    I really like the discussion group ideas with student-generated passages. If all the students pick one passage before coming to class, you'll have loads to discuss.

    Sounds like a great class!


    P.S. Read your comment on "Quills." Have you been to Dillon?

  2. *random student dropping in*

    Hi. You don't know me and I don't know you. Well, I have been following the blog for a while. I really enjoy reading academic blogs, particularly when they talk about teaching. It's changing the way I think about the classes i take.

    Anyway... tute presentations... the first variety are the standard tute presentation which I've had to work with, and am fairly adept at giving. Simple, straight down the line and no one's head hurts thinking about *how* to do them.
    The second, where students select favourite passages and work through them, sounds much more interesting, but with infinite capacity to flop. There will be weeks in which the presenters don't manage to stimulate any discussion... weeks where the presenters pick really boring passages... and so on.

    Anyway, one thing which I think would reduce your chances of disaster- and hopefully you were planning to do this anyway, but I find teachers often don't- is to give the students some sort of framework around which to structure their presentation. A confident student should be free to throw that out the window, of course. But I do often wonder why, if teachers are there to teach, they keep trying to leave the class structure up to amateurs, and then complaining that it doesn't work!

    Point is, make sure the students know what you want them to think about when choosing and presenting their passage. Some tips on initiating class discussion might work well, too, if you want the students to lead that.

    Another potential problem I can see with that plan is that it would personally annoy me if I didn't know in advance what passage the group were selecting, and therefore had no focus for my tutorial preparation. (if I did any, that is... i guess that depends what level the class is at. i wouldn't have done any preparation in first year!)

    right. I'm going to go away now and stop pretending that i know what i'm talking about.

    have a nice night,


  3. eeek, i say "anyway" far too often. My sincere apologies for my excruciating linguistic habits.

  4. Re arranging the order of texts read in class: I'm teaching Vic Lit for about the fourth time and making that decision for the 4th time. I've never done it chronologically yet, but I always wonder *why* I'm not doing it chronologically. I did it sort of randomly the first time I taught it (when I had very little idea what Vic Lit was, being a classics professor by training and a pop culture person by inclination) and more or less politically the last two times. I'm still trying to decide what I'll do this time.

  5. Regarding the plays, I would give students 4-5 scenes to choose from or meet with each group beforehand so that you are sure they're talking about the really important scenes.

    Also, from someone who always teaches drama, I wonder if you might not consider asking them to act out the scene first? Over and over I am amazed at how the students get into it and how much more they and I get from watching scenes be enacted. I just think it's a real shame to teach drama and never to let the students see it acted out, even badly!

    There's a great book on this, one of the MLA Teaching Series: Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance. I've used the techniques in that book in all kinds of classes, from non-majors Western world lit to upper-division majors-only.

    Good luck!