I teach at Swansea University. Mostly, I teach Renaissance drama although I’ve also taught ancient Greek tragedy, medieval mystery, Renaissance sonnets, and assorted other subjects. The majority of my lectures involve me making the following points:
- Drama is weird
- Shakespeare is not the only Renaissance dramatist
I love introducing students to plays they have never heard of before. It’s exciting to see students reading (and sometimes even watching) Lyly, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton and co. But I like teaching Shakespeare too. Sometimes it’s tricky to balance enthusiasm for the subject with skepticism of the centrality of Shakespeare. I certainly don’t want to discourage people from enjoying Shakespeare! And Shakespeare is also a great way of addressing important topics like race and gender, as well as adaptation and appropriation. I like teaching and studying the contest over Shakespeare and the curious uses to which his plays are put. Synopses for some of my modules are listed below:
Contentious Shakespeare (BA, 2nd year)
Shakespeare is often figured as a universal writer who tells us something essential about the human condition; he has been imagined as both a national poet and the world’s dramatist. But can Shakespeare really be universal? This module invites students to rethink many of the standard assumptions about Shakespeare. The writer Ben Jonson described as the ‘sweet swan of Avon’ was also responsible for plays of horrifying violence and his drama reflects, in unsettling ways, on issues of gender, race, and class. Students will explore five controversial Shakespeare plays: The Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and The Tempest. Lectures, seminars, and film screenings introduce the plays in their disturbing complexity: Shakespeare emerges as a deeply equivocal presence in literary and theatrical history. Taking into account the important work of feminist and postcolonial criticism, this module addresses both the radical potential and the frequently conservative application of Shakespeare’s plays.
‘Love, and a bit with a dog’: Comedy in Renaissance England (BA, 3rd year)
In Tom Stoppard’s screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare’s early comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is performed before the Queen. When the actor playing Launce is attacked by his unruly dog, Crab, the audience, hitherto unamused, break into laughter. Turning to a nonplussed Shakespeare, the theatre entrepreneur Philip Henslowe snorts, ‘You see…comedy…love, and a bit with a dog, that’s what they want’. This module will take the question – what is comedy? – seriously. Often, comedies are patronized when compared with tragedies, but comedies contain in them matters of importance, opening up questions of gender, politics, religion and morality. This module will encourage students to challenge preconceived ideas about comedies and to confront, head on, thorny critical issues, such as whether comedies ought to be funny, or whether they ought to end happily. Students will be asked to consider what it means to call a play a comedy; in doing so, they will explore some of the most audacious, inventive and controversial plays of the English Renaissance.
After Macbeth: Stage and Screen Adaptation (MA)
This module begins in the seventeenth century and ends in the present day as it traces the stage and screen afterlife of Shakespeare’s Scottish play. By turns familiar and strange,Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most commonly performed plays yet it takes a horrible delight in the weird and the supernatural. Accordingly, the module invites students to consider the enduring strangeness of Macbeth as it has captured the imagination of writers, actors, and directors, in a variety of cultures and contexts, across the last four centuries. Whether revisiting the events of Shakespeare’s play or continuing the narrative beyond the expected endpoint, the plays and films discussed in this module bear the marks of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Yet Shakespeare’s Macbeth also bears the marks of Thomas Middleton, since it seems it exists only in an adapted form. The study of adaptation is therefore necessary to the study of Macbeth as it offers continued ways of rethinking our most fundamental assumptions about Shakespeare and his place in contemporary culture.