Acting Exercise: Duchess of Malfi Act 4 Scene 1

Task: Read The Duchess of Mali Act 4 Scene 1. Chart each character’s moral/emotional movement in the scene, and use that information to decide how to play the scene’s power dynamics.

Conclusions: The scene’s villain (Ferdinand) and heroine (Duchess) are clear. This is a scene where the Duchess begins to lose power, while Ferdinand gains control. The most interesting character in the scene is Bosola, who is caught between his employer and the Duchess. He begins the scene by admiring the Duchess and ends the scene so disgusted with the Duchess’s treatment at Ferdinand’s hands (bad pun) that he decides he can’t be involved without disguising himself.

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Acting Exercise: Duchess of Malfi Act 4 Scene 1

SUMMARY: The Renaissance Imagination Part 1

Renaissance Art moved along three continuums: external to internal wisdom, distinct to reconciled opposites, and fact to fiction. The last one caused the most problems, and it was only during the Renaissance that theorists began offering a clear argument for why fiction was distinct from history on the one hand and lying on the other. These continuums were tempting in that they all offered ways of moving beyond the actual world, either in a healthier form of working through external reality or in an unhealthier form of trying to escape from external reality. At stake is the reality of the external world: the difference between what is real and what is just a projection of the mind. Poetry emphasized the power of fiction because engaging a self-avowed created world in serious play made the job of distinguishing reality from man-made projections much easier. Artists and audiences never escaped to the world of art for good. First, they would return to the actual world as represented with the work of art, and second, they would return to the actual world and leave the work of art. Poetic theorists of the time could claim that the profit of such an exercise was directly connected to the pleasure that such serious play provided.

It was this emphasis on art as a created space for serious play that was the hallmark of the Renaissance imagination. Classical thinkers did not have a coherent view of art because their epistemology could never adequately distinguish between what was real and what they were projecting. Christianity provided a more solid ground for distinguishing the two in the medieval period but at the expense of art. The humanity-created second world was always inferior to the first world God had made. In the Renaissance, artists and scientists began to believe that the second world was the place not to merely recreate but a space to improve the first world. Artists in the period range from political theorists like Thomas More to playwrights like Shakespeare to poets like Spenser and even scientists like Galileo. The scientific experiment itself was a second world.

Following MH Abrams, Berger labels such second worlds “heterocosms” because they are composed of various worlds that have been combined and held in harmonized tension. Berger calls the tempting and simplified version of the second world that often appears inside the second world “the green world.” Renaissance Art often exploited the difficulty in telling the second world and the green world apart, and the rest of Berger’s article pursues that tension in the period’s painting and Thomas More’s Utopia.

SUMMARY: The Renaissance Imagination Part 1

SUMMARY: Introduction to A Companion to Renaissance Drama

In his introduction to Blackwell’s A Companion to Renaissance Drama, Arthur Kinney insists that the English were not only playgoers during the Renaissance, they were play-actors. Every social space they saw—church, court, school—was a performance space. Kinney argues that the “mirror” Hamlet talks about is a good to conceptualize English theater. It’s job was to re-enact a world already filled with performances. Of course, the officially designated theater was activated by imagination, but it functioned primarily by imagining causal connections between disjointed spaces and times. The heart of Kinney’s argument is that such re-enactments played back history and context to their audiences. He takes as his test case the Arden of Faversham, a story with a long history in English chronicles (starting around 1551) and culminating in the printing of an anonymous play in 1592. The story involves a wealthy land-owner murdered by conspirators that include his wife. Kinney shows how in 1551, the play was connected to the land that Henry made available when he took it from the Catholic Church and sold it to regular citizens in the late 1530s. Arden’s murder reaks of class warfare. On the other hand, such a context does not apply to the 1592 play which was printed in the final decade of Queen Elizabeth’s rule. Now, a providential narrative of a morally corrupt wife being brought to justice. Kinney uses this example to argue that in this period, the line between text and context becomes blurry, and such an effect is what Kinney thinks the final legacy of this drama actually is.

SUMMARY: Introduction to A Companion to Renaissance Drama

Lewis’s “New Learning and New Ignorance” Summary Part 1

EnglishLiteratureInTheSixteenthCentury (1044x1550).jpg

I’m reading back through CS Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama. His opening essay, “New Learning and New Ignorance,” provides an intellectual context for the rest of the book. I will write a summary of this opening over the next couple of days and then follow it up with a summary of his longer take on the sixteenth century’s golden age. All this is work for my ENGL 358 class, and my purpose is two-fold: remind myself of some key concepts and definitions and practice writing summaries, something I’m going to have my students work diligently on this semester. The summary comes after the jump… Continue reading “Lewis’s “New Learning and New Ignorance” Summary Part 1″

Lewis’s “New Learning and New Ignorance” Summary Part 1

Renaissance or Early Modern?

I am teaching ENGL 358 this fall which is on the books as the English Renaissance course. I believe that I always used the term “early modern” to describe my are of specialization, though I was aware that it was a synonym for Renaissance. In a chapter titled Renaissance/Early Modern Studies for the MLA-published volume Redrawing the Boundaries (written over 20 years ago), Leah Marcus explains the theoretical stakes in choosing the period’s name.

What manner of beast is early modern studies? The scholarly area here characterized under that rubric covers a terrain that is, despite some differences, quite similar to what is often still termed Renaissance studies. The new, or supplementary nomenclanture “early modern” is far more than a mere relabeling, however. To explore the implications of the terminological shift is to encounter an important set of conceptual reconfigurations by which scholars in the are of Renaissance/early modern studies are remapping the field itself. We are moving away from interpreting the period as a time of re-naissance, cultural rebirth, the reawakening of an earlier era conceived of as (in some sense) classic; we are coming to view the period more in terms of elements repeated thereafter, those features of the age that appear to us precursors of our own twentieth century, the modern, the postmodern. (41)

Marcus is clearly on team Early Modern. EM brings with it a focus on interdisciplinarity; effects more than origins; “low” as well as “high” culture; more complicated views of authors, gender, and identity as a whole; and a progressive political focus that examines the fall-out of the period’s colonialism. Marcus admits in the essay’s final paragraph that the new EM studies may be shaping up as just as rigid as its Renaissance forebearer, but its seems that to look at the period the lens of the title Early Modern is to both literally and figuratively look forward. Renaissance is old hat.

On the first day of class we will compare Marcus’s paragraph with a description from a common core lesson plan, a unit from a 12th Grade curriculum, that identifies the period as the Renaissance.

Students consider Renaissance writers’ interest in ancient Greek and Latin literature and myth; their preoccupation with human concerns and life on earth; their aesthetic principles of harmony, balance, and divine proportion; and exceptions to all of these. This leads to a discussion of how literary forms themselves reflect religious, philosophical, and aesthetic principles. As students compare the works of the Renaissance with those of the Middle Ages, they will recognize the overlap and continuity of these periods. In addition, they consider how the outstanding works of the era transcend their time and continue to inspire readers and writers. The English Renaissance of the seventeenth century includes additional works by William Shakespeare. In their essays, students may analyze the ideas, principles, and form of a literary work; discuss how a work bears attributes of both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; discuss convergences of Renaissance literature and arts; or pursue a related topic of interest.
Common Core. Common Core Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts, Grades 9-12 (1).

The description tries to have it both ways. On the one, the period finds its aesthetic ideals in a bygone period. On the other, there is serious continuity between the Renaissance and Medieval periods. This belied by the description’s other focus: the way that “literary forms themselves reflect religious…principles.” An unexplored discontinuity here is the Reformation, a gigantic rift in the Christian church and something not necessarily predicted by the “cultural” rebirth that began in staunchly Catholic Italy.

So where does that leave our discussion?

It seems neither “Renaissance” nor “Early Modern” make room for the indelible effect religion had on the period’s literature. The former title emphasizes resuscitated classical art on behalf of humanism. The latter title emphasizes “constructed identity” and fragmentation that seems a hallmark of post-Enlightenment rationalism. Both try to pull an end-around Christianity. Yet, the period’s most famous poems–The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost–were religious, and the search for a purer religion seems to have had as much effect on the period’s art as did the search for a bygone classical aesthetics or the advent of something not yet Enlightened.

I’ll return to this topic. It’s a crucial one in thinking through the period.

 

Renaissance or Early Modern?