ENL 6236 Restoration Literature                                                                   Spring 2010



Mar 1:  Drama -- Tragedy/ Tragicomedy


Required:              Dryden: All for Love including Preface (Harris 245-334)

                              Otway: Venice Preserved (Harris 335-413)

                              Behn: The Widow Ranter (Todd 249-325)

                              Sandra Clark, “Shakespeare in the Restoration,” Literature Compass 2 (2005): 1-13.


                              Post 5

Scholarly Presentation: Katherine McGee, on Jenny Hale Pusipher’s  "The Widow Ranter and Royalist Culture in Colonial Virginia."  Early American Literature 39.1 (2004):  41-66.  Print

Oroonoko Annotation:  Jessica Cook


As we consider several of the varieties of Restoration "tragedy" or what some critics prefer to call "Serious Drama," keep in mind some of those questions already mentioned regarding genre:  What background is relevant for this particular genre?  What is its relationship to earlier English dramatic writing?  How did it develop during the Restoration?  In what ways does the genre particularly reflect the tastes of the times?  What are the general characteristics of the genre in form and content?  What kind of ideological presuppositions does it embody?


Also in light of our continued interest in place, consider the representation of kingdoms or colonies away from England proper. How do these play construct place?  Does England have more of a presence in these plays (as in the Heroic plays) than the nominal locations?  Why or why not?  What impact does this have on your understanding of England in the world?


Also keep in mind some of the questions or ideas posed by Rosenthal on Restoration and eighteenth-century drama: 


·         Rosenthal points out the ways in which drama of this period takes on cultural conflicts more directly than other genres, such as the novel.  “The plays do not necessarily confront the period’s pressing social changes with a more progressive vision than other genres; nevertheless, they tend to address certain issues more openly and more confrontationally” (174).  What evidence do your find for this confrontation in the plays for today?


·         Regarding the issues that concern scholars of Restoration drama today, Rosenthal claims they “are more likely to consider whether libertinism means the same thing for women as it does for men; when, if, and why the stage reformed; and how seventeenth-century audiences understood English identity in the context of the French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Native American, and African figures on stage.”  The new directions for theatre research include the identification of plays as newly deemed of interest (by women, by Whigs, etc.), the performance and the culture of performance, and the sociology of the theatre.  How might these concerns open up the plays for today to new discussion?


·         Of the areas Rosenthal identifies for future research, she includes work on female playwrights other than Aphra Behn (who has benefited greatly from scholarly attention recently) and “a fuller appreciation of the uniqueness of theatre as a public space.”  Given how scholars recognize theatre as a social institution not defined by text, how might your readings of the plays for today benefit from recognition of theatrical space?


Consider some of the points made by Sandra Clark on the adaptation of Shakespeare in the Restoration, especially when considering All for Love.  In particular question the staging and the political implications of the changes made.




Clifford Leech writes:


            It is customary to speak of Restoration "tragedies and heroic plays," but the distinction is artificial:  rhyme was used for a decade or so, and then blank verse took its place: with the change the heroes became less violently given, but the opposition of love and honour still provided the favourite dilemma, and from Dryden's The Indian Emperor of 1665 to his Love Triumphant, or Nature Will Prevail of 1693 the governing aim, which he shared with Orrery and Otway and Lee and less men, was uniform:  the exciting presentation of distressed nobility.


To what extent can we distinguish between the heroic play and the tragedies?  What differences are there?


According to Eugene M. Waith:


            The emphasis on courtesy in seventeenth-century France serves to remind us of the persistent influence of the chivalric romances, in which we hear courtesy praised almost as often as bravery.  A surprising number of characteristics of the heroes of those romance continued to be the desiderata for the ideal man in both France and England and, all the more, for their fictional representations.  In addition to valour and courtesy the seventeenth-century hero, like his medieval forbear, was expected to be loyal and honourable, desirous of glory, capable of an idealized love, liberal, and most important of all, great minded.


Waith's list of requisites not only raises the question of how realistic the "tragic" or otherwise hero of Restoration drama could be, but also where he comes from?  What competing ideals are at play in the hero?  What cultural conflicts does he dramatize? (national -- French/English; public/private; male/female)?


One aspect of Restoration tragedy that can easily escape the modern reader/viewer is the role that spectacle played in the presentation.  Leech reminds us "that Restoration tragic plays were written for acting in front of painted scenery -- sometimes more, sometimes less, elaborate -- and that this encouraged the high-flown manner in both writing and acting."


How does the scenery influence the reception of these plays?  How might the language be more comprehensible given a proper setting?




I.          All For Love


As always with Dryden, it is essential to consider the prose and poetic pieces surrounding the play.  What does his preface add to our understanding of the play?  To what extent is the concept of poetic justice, as he conceives it, demonstrated?  Is it the central lesson of the play?  What role do Dryden's antagonists play in the preface and prologue?  To what extent might he be responding to Rochester's satires?


Dryden's adaptation of Shakespeare's play provides interesting insights into the tastes of the Restoration pubic.  What does he change and why?  To what extent do we value Dryden's play because he attempts to "better" Shakespeare?  To what extent is this a "collaboration" and to what extent "original"?


Earl Miner writes that All for Love's "disciplined yet lyric verse holds few resemblances to the argumentative couplets of the heroic plays or the looser, rougher medium of all his subsequent tragedies, from Oedipus onwards."


Compare the style of writing here with Dryden's earlier heroic plays.  Outline the differences and similarities, the strengths and weaknesses.


What role do the women play in Dryden's play?  How do they differ from Shakespeare's original?  How do they compare with Otway's?  with Behn's?




II.        Venice Preserv'd


Aline Mackenzie Taylor writes:


            Venice Preserv'd was first performed in February, 1682, just as the panic and hysteria of the Popish Plot were beginning to subside and the political issues were becoming clear.  It must have been composed during the crisis, while the nation was divided into faction, and political feeling was veering suddenly, as the fortunes of his majesty rose and those of the Earl of Shaftesbury declined.  At the time very few good heads in England could perceive the principles which were at stake, so much was obscured by the smoke of controversy.  Venice Preserv'd, with its conflict of senate and conspirators, is bound up with the English political crisis of 1678-1682, and the interpretation of the play is determined by the fortunes of the King's party, whose manifesto it became.


In what ways and to what extent does Venice Preserved reflect Restoration politics?  Must the reader know them well in order to appreciate the drama?  How effectively are politics and propaganda integrated into the play?  How do the domestic elements function in this connection?  How do the effects of this play differ from those of All for Love?  Can you draw any useful comparisons of Dryden and Otway? Otway and Behn?


Does the concept of poetic justice prevail in Otway's play?  Who are the heroes?  Who are the villains?  What implications do the answers to these questions have on a political interpretation? 


Examine the coming together of the public and private in the paternal metaphor in Otway's text.  What cultural or social criticisms are inherent in the play?


Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, of Achitophel fame, is said to be attacked in the characters of Antonio, primarily, and Renault, secondarily.  What does it mean for the overall play to have the chief political villain cast in both sides of the political crisis?  How do we understand the Nicky-Nacky scenes in the structure of the play?  How do they compare with the other plot(s)?




III.       The Widow Ranter


In terms of Restoration generic categories, what does the term "tragic-comedy mean"?  To what extent does Behn's play fulfill that meaning?


Robert Hume suggests that this play successfully integrates a tragic play, a satiric commentary on a corrupt council of governors and some happy love affairs.  How do we reconcile so many disparate elements in a single play? Does this detract or add to the overall value of the piece?


Consider the role of women in Behn's play.  Many commentators have seen Behn herself adopting the "breeches part" as an author.  Others see her capitalizing on the equation of the punk (whore) and poetess.  To what extent do you see Behn in these guises in the prologue, epilogue or other aspects of her play?  What significance does cross-dressing have in the play?  What comment does it make on traditional gender roles and the balance of power?


Jacqueline Pearson claims that plays by women in the Restoration "rarely present feminist ideals directly -- though in this Margaret Cavendish is an obvious exception -- but they frequently feature in prefaces, commendatory letters and verses, dedications, prologues and epilogues.  More indirectly, though, this questions of the power relations between the sexes and ideas about women's education, underlie . . . many women's plays of the period."


What strategies does Behn use to purvey these feminist ideas?  What evidence do we have in The Widow Ranter?