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Module

SEL3418 : Stagecraft: sex, subversion and salvation in early drama

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Kate De Rycker
  • Lecturer: Dr James Cummings
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semesters
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0

Aims

Themes explored in this module:
- Performance (audiences, actors, staging, metadrama)
- Material culture (props, special effects, costumes, cosmetics)
- Dramatic representation (race, sexuality, gender, class)
- Politics and religion (containment v. subversion)

This module takes a creative, imaginative, and practical approach to pre-1700 drama. Our focus on ‘stagecraft’ means that we will be workshopping scenes from late medieval and Renaissance plays to see how they actually worked under the conditions for which they were written. We will explore how you can conjure up a devil onstage, what makes effective stage blood, and consider what it was like to see female audience members hijack a performance. Early drama was also a subversive medium of entertainment, and so we will be exploring the wider social and political ramifications of these plays: if an actor can perform royalty simply by putting on a crown, then what really is the difference between a stage-king and a real one? How can you get away with speaking blasphemy and profanity onstage? We will also be engaging with topics that are controversial today, such as how and whether plays that originally included antisemitic characters or the use of blackface can be studied and performed today. Is it ever possible to truly modernise old plays for performance? How can we draw out the contemporary relevance of centuries-old drama?

Outline Of Syllabus

The texts studied in this module range from the late-medieval up until the closing of the London theatres in 1642. Rather than studying them in a chronological order, we want instead to think about connections across the entire period, engaging with plays according to shared themes (e.g. theatrical subversion, women on stage, saints and devils). While well known authors like Shakespeare and plays like 'Mankind' will be making an appearance, this is also an opportunity for you to discover some less well-known plays like ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’ and ‘The Croxton Play of the Sacrament’.

This module will focus on the original staging of early drama while considering the possibilities for modernising performances. What sort of special effects were possible at this time, and how did the theatrical space help or hinder these effects? How are magic, horror, and racial or sexual ambiguity portrayed in these plays, and why? To help us answer some of these questions, we will be using rehearsal techniques to explore and experiment with selected scenes during our ‘theatre lab’ seminars.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion180:0080:00Preparation of project/portfolio assessment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Module Lecture
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading166:0066:00Lecture / Seminar preparation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Module Seminar
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops111:0011:00Module Theatre-Lab Workshops
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity101:0010:00Student Study Groups
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDissertation/project related supervision10:300:30Consultation for project plan
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDissertation/project related supervision10:300:30Consultation for curated blog posts
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDissertation/project related supervision10:300:30Final consultation for project/portfolio
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study19:309:30Independent study for blog writing
Total200:00
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce the students to key literary texts, key concepts, and critical paradigms. As all the texts are dramatic, seminars will investigate the texts of these plays, and ‘theatre labs’ will enable students to gain confidence in testing out their readings through experimenting with rehearsal techniques. Both develop their communication and analytical skills. Study groups will help to develop students' teamwork, leadership and problem solving skills by taking it in turns to lead their group’s exploration of a scene or excerpt ahead of the seminar. A set of supervisory meetings spread across the second half of the module, will be used to ensure that students are in a good position to prepare the necessary components of the portfolio, a completed version being due in the final week.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio2A100Portfolio consisting of essay or creative project+rationale, written exercise and curated set of blog posts. 4000 words +/- 10%
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Research proposal2MEssay/Project Plan
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Students will be assessed by the submission of a portfolio at the end of the module. A formative project or essay plan is due earlier in the semester.

Students will be regularly contributing to course blogs during the module, from which they can select examples of their best material to include in the portfolio (c.1250 words). Portfolios will include a headnote (c. 750 words), reflecting on a self-identified theme which the student can demonstrate pertains to more than three texts or performance conditions studied in this module. Finally, the portfolio will include either an essay of 2,000 words, or a creative project accompanied by a rationale of 1,000 words, demonstrating the way in which the project meets course themes.

Reading Lists

Timetable