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English 64b: From Libertinism to Sensibility: Pleasure and the Theatre, 1660-1800

Brandeis University
Spring 2015
TF 11:00 AM–12:20 PM (Block H)
Location: TBA

In ENG 64b: From Libertinism to Sensibility: Pleasure and the Theatre, 1660-1800, we will investigate performance, performance texts, and dramatic criticism as modes for representing and negotiating self and society in Restoration and eighteenth-century London. 

During the period covered by the course, radical social thinkers, reformers, writers, politicians, and others increasingly reacted against the hierarchical organization of traditional England. Parliamentary power gradually supplanted sovereign will; political authority and interest gradually moved from the courts and the visibly representative bodies of the monarch and peers to the virtual sphere of public discourse and debate.  Traditional patriarchal relationships gave way to more privatized and domesticated forms of patriarchy within the household.  Commercial and economic interests, including the expansion of trade and colonialism and the acquisition of monopoly rights in the Atlantic slave trade supported the developing cultural authority of the "middling" ranks of society.

Reading performance texts that reinforced, critiqued, and satirized these developments, we will ask how the theatre and theatrical pleasures engaged the emerging modern self—emerging as privatized, "liberal" or "free," inwardly oriented, white, consumerist, embedded in print discourse, possessing desires stimulated by colonial traffic and international trade, enjoying an intrinsic eroticism, and stratified according to new markers of class, gender, race, and nation.  As we examine the interplay among performance texts, including plays, operas, and ballad operas, and such cultural codes as libertinism, decorum, manners, taste, emotion, and sensibility, we will be concerned with performance in everyday life as well as on the stage.  How do the patterns of gesture and movement onstage, the words spoken, and the interactions among performers and spectators reinforce existing social relationships offstage or present possibilities for change?

As we discuss performance texts, we'll be considering the modes of pleasure they generate, critique, and reinforce:  the material pleasures of theatricality and spectatorship, including those of masquerade and cross-dressing; the aesthetic pleasures of dramatic, musical, and visual form; and such specific and concrete pleasures, accelerating across our period, as consumption, travel and tourism, urbanity and pastoral retirement, romantic and egalitarian friendships, sexuality (inside and outside of marriage, same- and different-gender), exhibitionism and voyeurism, wit and other kinds of linguistic mastery, private and public discourse, passion, and sentimentality. 

ENG 64b satisfies the historical elective requirement in the Women's and Gender Studies program and elective requirements in the Cultural Studies Track in Music and in Theatre Arts.

EVALUATION:  ENG 64b encourages active learning. You will engage in individual or collaborative research (depending on the size of the class); share your research informally and formally; prepare a final paper or project (either independently or collaboratively) incorporating your research and explicating, analyzing, or critically assessing plays from our reading list; and participate actively in course discussions.

REQUIRED TEXT:  Available at Brandeis University Bookstore and on Reserve.

Canfield, Douglas J., and Maja-Lisa von Sneidern, eds. The Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Drama, Concise Edition. Ontario, Canada: Broadview, 2003. ISBN: 1551115816.