Performing the Past: Restoration
And Eighteenth-Century Dramas
Lisa Zeitz, University of Western Ontario
Cameron McFarlane, Nipissing University
“Performing the Past: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramas” was first offered as a senior undergraduate seminar at the University of Western Ontario; the following autumn it was offered at the same level at Nipissing University. At both schools, senior (i.e. restricted to fourth-year students) seminars are a requirement for graduation with honours, and at both, course enrolment is capped at 16 in order to ensure the central importance of class discussion. Despite these programmatic similarities, however, Western and Nipissing are very different institutions, and as we structured the reading and the class assignments, we attempted to tailor the course to the needs and strengths of these two distinct student populations. Where Western is a large (29,000 students) research-intensive university in southern Ontario with extensive library resources, Nipissing is a relatively small (about 3,500 students) undergraduate school in northern Ontario where the closest research libraries are 4 hours away in either Ottawa or Toronto. Approximately 95% of the students in English Studies at Nipissing are headed to a Faculty of Education and careers as high school English teachers; a significant number of Western’s English graduates intend to pursue professional (law, business administration) or graduate studies. Western students tend to be highly motivated high achievers who care a great deal about securing admission to programs of their choice; Nipissing students are equally motivated and hard-working, but their diligence is directed almost solely toward the goal of achieving teacher certification. At neither school were students required to have a previous course in Restoration and eighteenth-century literature before registering in the seminar, although in both places roughly half had studied the period before. Part of our challenge in designing “Performing the Past,” then, was to develop a course that was focused but also flexible enough to accommodate students with differing experiences, abilities, and goals. We hope, therefore, that instructors who might wish to adopt any part (or all) of the course will take into account what might work best for their students.
“Performing the Past” explores the interest – and what appears to be the growing interest – of contemporary playwrights in the drama and the theatre history of the Restoration and eighteenth century. The reading list brings together a selection of canonical plays from Restoration and eighteenth-century England and a selection of plays from the 1980s to the present that engage the drama and theatre history of the earlier period – either by taking a specific Restoration or eighteenth-century play as an intertext or by staging a particular moment from the period’s theatre history. The course aims to introduce students to some of the major conventions of Restoration and eighteenth-century drama, to introduce them to the theatre history of the period, and to get them thinking about how the past, like a play, is not something simply static and fixed, but something repeatedly realized anew in every iteration.
Any course on Restoration and eighteenth-century literature – indeed, any course on any historical literary period – involves, implicitly, an attempt to bring the past to life, an attempt to set the past and its ideas, its tensions, its “drama” in motion. “Performing the Past” makes that attempt, and the implications of that attempt, its explicit focus of study. How does one imagine historically? How do our present concerns inform our views of the past? What are the motives with which we turn to the past? How does, or how might, the past appear in the present? How is the past refigured and interpreted by a contemporary writer? What is the nature of the dialogue between the past and the present? These are the questions that animate the course and that, to a considerable extent, animate the contemporary plays on the course. Unlike many historical films which, with either veneration or mockery, might be designated as “heritage films” for their loving recreation of “period detail,” the contemporary plays studied here turn a probing, irreverent, and critical eye on history and, thus, encourage students to do the same.
The most innovative feature of “Performing the Past” is the syllabus itself which foregrounds the conversation between past and present. Central to engaging the dialogue between the past and the present is the study of four pairs of “companion” plays, each pair consisting of one old and one new play.
Three of the “new” plays on the syllabus – Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good (1988), Stephen Jeffreys’ The Libertine (1994), and April De Angelis’s A Laughing Matter (2002) – were in fact commissioned by Max Stafford-Clark and the Out of Joint Theatre Company in Britainto be performed alongside the Restoration and eighteenth-century plays that inspired them. Max Stafford-Clark, in explaining why he is so interested in the drama of Restoration and eighteenth-century England, has said, simply, “I think they’re great plays.” But he has also insisted that it is “incumbent” on those who mount productions to “re-discover the play in some way, and approach it afresh” ; part of that re-discovery and fresh approach, for Stafford-Clark, was the commissioning of new work. George Etherege’s The Man of Mode (1676) and Jeffreys’ The Libertine, George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer (1706) and Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, and Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773) and De Angelis’s A Laughing Matter initially played in repertoire with each other, with the same set, and the same cast. The fourth pairing on the course syllabus – which is not thanks to the muse of Stafford-Clark – is Alan Ayckbourn’s 1984 play A Chorus of Disapproval and the work it takes as its intertext, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728). Ayckbourn has remarked that Gay’s was “a musical play I greatly admired and had always wanted to produce”; The Beggar’s Opera gave him, he says, “a plot which echoed almost perfectly the one I intended to write and provided the perfect mirror image on which to build by own dramatic structure.” These pairings of past and present plays offer case studies through which students can approach the course’s central questions and concerns.
The version of the course taught at Western (Schedule “A” below) begins with Etherege’s The Man of Mode and Jeffreys’ The Libertine. Jeffreys uses The Man of Mode as an intertext in his exploration of Rochester’s relationship with Elizabeth Barry and of modes of performance onstage and off in the Restoration; while Etherege’s Dorimant may represent a highly idealized representation of Wilmot, Jeffreys’ Rochester is perhaps the least idealized representation imaginable. Students are asked to begin by identifying structural, thematic, and dramatic parallels between the plays and to consider their implications. Leading ideas, which will be explored throughout the course, are introduced in this pairing, and include the construction and performance of identity and the relationship between art and life. Wertenbaker’s play, provocatively titled Our Country’s Good imagines the first performance of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – which became a staple of colonial theatres – in Australia in 1789 by an all-convict cast. Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval is set in the 1980s and uses an amateur operatic society’s production of The Beggar’s Opera to mirror the greed and immorality of Margaret Thatcher’s England. Farqhuar’s, Gay’s, and Ayckbourn’s plays allow us to explore eighteenth-century and late twentieth-century modes of dramatic satire and, along with Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, to examine how ideas and critiques of the nation can be staged. Both Ayckbourn and Wertenbaker, in particular, use the past – past plays, past performances, and the past in the present – to comment on the place and function of the theatre in society. In A Laughing Matter, April De Angelis stages the late eighteenth-century debate between laughing and sentimental comedy by speculating about how David Garrick might have reached his decision not to stage Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. Like Ayckbourn’s and Wertenbaker’s, De Angelis’s play is a reflection on the theatre itself; in this case, the emphasis is on the material and economic realities of the theatrical enterprise, though that’s a description that fails to do justice to the hilarity of the play.
Two plays on the course engage the dialogue of past and present by employing a two-plot, two-period structure: Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (1993) and Shelagh Stephenson’s An Experiment with an Air Pump (1998/2000). Arcadia explicitly foregrounds the writing (or re-creation) of the past in the present by featuring two authors, one a scholar of garden history, and the other an ambitious literary historian, both of whom are attempting to understand “what happened” in past lives and landscapes. Set in a large country house, and moving back and forth in time between the early nineteenth century (1809) and the present day, Stoppard’s play stages the difficulties of our efforts to understand the past, and our profound obligation to attempt to do so, even though we’ll never get it “right.” The theory of iteration speaks directly to the presence of the past, its production of the present, and its critical importance to an understanding of who we are now and how we came to be where and what we are. Stephenson’s An Experiment with an Air Pump, also set in the same house in 1799 and 1999, employs similar dramatic strategies in its exploration of past and present ideas of “progress” in an age on the brink of the Industrial Revolution, and another on the brink of a revolution in genetic engineering. Stephenson uses the double casting of actors to play one eighteenth-century character and one twentieth-century character to great effect: the double casting comments upon social change, gender roles, and the ethics of the manipulation of nature in both eras, and highlights both shared dilemmas and profound differences. Finally, Swollen Tongues (1999), by Canadian playwright Kathleen Oliver, employs the stylistic and structural conventions of Restoration drama – it is written completely in heroic couplets – but its central romantic relationship is between two women. And, yes, after much intrigue, mistaken identity, and cross-dressing, the girl does get the girl.
The version of the course taught at Nipissing is substantially the same (Schedule “B” below); however, this version eliminates Stoppard’s Arcadia and introduces two other texts at the beginning of the course: April De Angelis’s Playhouse Creatures (1993/1994) and Richard Eyre’s 2004 film Stage Beauty based on Jeffrey Hatcher’s play Compleat Female Stage Beauty. These two texts dramatize the same event in theatre history – the emergence of female players in the professional theatre – from very different perspectives and, thus, highlight for students at the beginning of the course that all performances of the past are interpretations. (When this seminar was taught, the text for Compleat Female Stage Beauty was unavailable; it is now available from DPS.)
What links all of these plays is a metatheatrical dimension. While many might be described as rehearsal plays, all contain metadramatic elements highlighting, globally, the constructedness of our ideas of the past (and of the present) and, locally, issues of identity and performance. In The Recruiting Officer, for example, one can look at the way in which the performance of the rake is redefined in the art of the recruiter – and at how that performance continues to be redefined. When The Recruiting Officer and Our Country’s Good first appeared on the course, Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 had just been released on DVD, and students watched the recruiting scenes from that film. The importance of costuming, rhetorical skill, ideas of patriotism, and the relationship of the individual to the nation were revisited, and students reported that their discussions of Farquhar, Wertenbaker, and Moore continued long after the class had adjourned.
PLEASE NOTE: The above details do not represent the only configuration of plays through which this course could be offered. You will find in the supplementary materials suggestions for alternate texts and alternate ways of structuring the course.
Because discussion is essential to the success of a seminar course, two features of the structure of evaluation were crucial in ensuring that students came to class prepared for discussion and willing to participate: a participation mark worth 15%, and a series of discussion questions worth 25%. The completion of 5 discussion papers – the students chose 5 out of a possible 12 – ensured that the members of the seminar arrived prepared. (These questions are marked “DP” on the Schedule below.) The discussion questions, designed to provoke a wide range of possible answers and provide a starting point for class conversation, might be restricted to one play, or they might be comparative. For example, students were asked to re-title Etherege’s play and explain why their title was appropriate; when it was time to discuss The Libertine, the class had already asked themselves about the significance of that title. A comparative question might deal with casting: Max Stafford-Clark, the director of the original Out of Joint production of The Libertine, for example, cast the same actor as Sir Fopling Flutter in The Man of Mode and King Charles II in The Libertine. What might be achieved by this casting? Students were asked which parts they would double, and why. One might also do the work of comparison by asking the same question of different plays: one week students were asked “To what extent is She Stoops to Conquer a sentimental comedy?” and the next, “To what extent is A Laughing Matter a sentimental comedy?” The appearance of these discussion questions on the course outline enabled all students to focus their reading and prepare for each class discussion regardless of whether they chose to answer that day’s question in writing. In a post-course survey, students observed that the questions made them “read the plays more critically” and “helped spark stronger debates in class.”
Another useful assignment is a series of short presentations on historical context (these are marked “HC” on the Schedule below). These “mini-lectures,” 15 minutes in length, ensured that essential historical and contextual material was covered systematically, so that all students would have in their notebooks accurate and useable definitions and descriptions of key terms like “the fop,” “the rake,” “libertinism,” “the breeches part,” “conventional comic plots,” and so on. Further, it was important to make the students responsible for this information themselves. Students understood that their presentations needed to be clear, concise, and practical: they and their classmates would be consulting this material – and they did – for their discussion questions, and the major seminar and essay later in the course. Each presenter had to prepare a one-page handout for the class that provided a summary of the most important points about the topic; on the other side of the page, secondary sources – with library call numbers – were listed. A key benefit of this exercise was the way in which it immediately signalled to the group that, while they were being evaluated individually, their success in the course was closely linked to everyone making a strong effort. In short order, students were referring to “Jessica’s handout on the rake” or even saying “would everyone turn to Vanessa’s handout on libertinism.” In addition to fulfilling its mandate for historical (and generic) context, this assignment highlighted for students the fact that a seminar is a community of enquirers, researching and writing together, and mutually benefiting from the diligent work of others.
Students were also asked to deliver a major seminar presentation on one play (worth 20%) and to complete a major term paper or term project (worth 30%). Students were expected to situate their major presentation within the context of the themes and issues that the seminar had generated so far, and they worked on their presentations in pairs, a strategy that helped to reinforce the collaborative nature of the course. They were graded on the extent of their preparedness; their knowledge of the chosen text and the critical issues it engages; their ability to demonstrate close reading and to offer more than one possible interpretation; the clarity with which they communicated their ideas; and their ability to generate discussion. Western students unanimously agreed that the “best” element of the course was the class discussion: “It was focussed enough by the texts and presentations, but it was also fluid enough for us to have useful and revealing conversations about ideas present in the text that weren’t necessarily on the agenda for discussion”; “for the first time in my university experience, the discussion relied predominantly on original thoughts and questions, rather than merely mimicking the points of the professor”; “the discussion was at levels I did not think I could experience in an undergraduate class.”
One of the points at which the Western version of the course and the Nipissing version diverged was the nature of the major term paper or term project. The students at Western were required to write a formal, critical, comparative paper on two plays, one “old” and one “new.” At Nipissing, students were offered this assignment as only one of three possible choices. As future teachers, Nipissing students tend more toward the practical than the abstract in their thinking, and, in attempting to play to the students’ strengths, Cameron offered his students, in addition to the option of a formal, critical paper, two options that combined critical and practical modes of thinking. One option was a project called, naturally enough, “Performing the Past.” This project had three parts: a director’s notebook, or prompt book, for a key scene from one of the contemporary plays; a 4-page justification of the choices the student had made in “staging” the scene (how did his or her staging of this particular scene contribute to an interpretation of the play as a whole); and a set of program notes - i.e. the kind of notes that might appear in a theatre program - introducing the play and situating it in the context, depending on the chosen play, of Restoration or eighteenth-century drama. Although these students were working on contemporary plays, a number of them researched the performance conventions of the period, as well as things like period fashion and period music, and incorporated that research into their scene. (It was an advantage that some students had been through Nipissing’s theatre production course.)
Because the contemporary plays in “Performing the Past” are simply scripts for performance, students were also offered the option of mocking up a “critical edition” of one of the plays. This project had two parts: students were required to write a critical introduction to the play, such as you would find in a New Mermaid or Norton Critical edition, and then students had to choose a fairly substantial scene and produce an annotated version of it - a typescript of the scene with the kind of glosses and explanatory notes that one would expect to find in a good critical edition. This project worked very well because, first, students had to be able to demonstrate both analytical adeptness and historical knowledge in their critical introductions - historical knowledge of both the historical period in which the play was set or of the play’s intertext if it had one and the performance and reception history of the play itself. Second, probably for the first time in any real way, students had to think about the apparatus that accompanies a good critical edition. How does one decide what words need glossed and what references explained? Perhaps not surprisingly, students who were combined English-History majors excelled at this project.
In addition to the goals listed above – to introduce some of the major conventions of Restoration and eighteenth-century drama; to introduce the theatre history of period; and to get students thinking about how the past, like a play, is not static and fixed, but something that is repeatedly realized anew in every iteration – “Performing the Past,” through the juxtaposition of “old” and “new” plays, also attempts to address the bigger questions of how and why we study the past. Ultimately, students are encouraged to relinquish an oppositional conception of the past – that was then, this is now – in favour of a consideration of the ways in which we always inevitably enter into the past and the past necessarily inhabits the present.
The plays on this course do what we, as members of the academy responsible for studying, teaching, and coming to “know” more deeply the world of the Restoration and eighteenth century, try to do: they attempt to make the past accessible, alive, and fully engaged with the present. The juxtaposition of plays also foregrounds the extent to which any modern construction of the past must necessarily be an interpretation through a contemporary lens. However, these plays also do what we, quite frankly, can’t always do despite our best efforts: they confirm the significance and the relevance of Restoration and eighteenth-century culture to contemporary culture, to a contemporary culture that exists even outside the formally academic preoccupations of the seminar room. In the words of several students, reading old against new, and vice versa, “helped to open up the meanings of the old texts and add meaning to the new texts”; “ The Libertine made me look at The Man of Mode in a way I never had before”; “it made older texts still seem ... important in today’s age, and thus it helped to connect the students to the material, and made them enjoy and care about it just that much more.” The final words on the goals and potential outcomes of “Performing the Past” belong to a scholarship student at Western who summed up her experience in the seminar and the achievements of her classmates much more eloquently than we can. The class, she concluded, “encouraged us, as both students and readers, to critically engage with the idea of ‘history’; to note how malleable it is, how subject to change depending on the perspective of a given representation, and how powerful it can be to use one historical text in order to ‘talk back’ to another.”
“Performing the Past” – Course Schedule
The following schedule assumes a class that meets twice a week for one thirteen-week term. Two slightly different outlines of the course are offered. Topics for brief presentations on historical context (HC) and for group discussion papers (DP) are included in the schedule. A description of these and other assignments follows the schedule.
1. Historical Context Presentation 10%
2. Discussion Papers (5 x 5%) = 25%
3. Seminar Presentation 20%
4. Term Paper/Project 30%
5. Seminar Participation 15%
Description of Assignments and Evaluation
1. Historical Context Presentation: These presentations will be no more than 10-15 minutes in duration. Their purpose is to provide accurate information and solid, usable definitions and explanations. Each short presentation must include a one-page handout that provides a clear summary of the most important points. On the reverse side of the handout, sources should be listed in correct MLA form.
2. Discussion Papers: In order to facilitate discussion, each student must submit a well thought-out written response to FIVE discussion questions (there are twelve to choose from). These responses should be no more than 2-2.5 pages. Your responses are due at the start of class on the days indicated in the schedule and will be accepted AT NO OTHER TIME. Do NOT prepare a discussion paper on the same day as your seminar presentation.
3. Seminar Presentation: You and a partner will give a 75-minute presentation on a particular play. A more detailed handout on seminar presentations, including the grading criteria, will be distributed in the first weeks of class.
4. Term Paper / Project: Choose ONE of the following options.
a) Critical Research Paper – (12-15 pages, MLA format)
A formal, comparative essay. Your paper must consider TWO plays, one old and one modern.
b) Production Notes and Scene Analysis – (8 pages + Scene Analysis + 4-page explication)
This project has three parts. I: An 8-page general introduction to the play such as might appear in a theatre program. II. A director’s notebook analyzing a chosen scene – i.e. a scene that is completely blocked, with a description of sets, costumes, lighting, sound effects, music, etc. III. A 4-page justification of the importance of the scene you have chosen and of the choices you have made in “staging” it. You should consult with me when choosing your scene. Choose ONE of the following plays: Playhouse Creatures, The Libertine, Our Country’s Good, A Chorus of Disapproval, A Laughing Matter, Arcadia, Swollen Tongues, or An Experiment with an Air Pump. YOU CANNOT CHOOSE THE PLAY YOU PRESENTED TO THE SEMINAR.
c) A Critical “Edition” – (12 pages + Annotated Scene)
This project consists of two parts: I: A 12-page critical introduction to the play. II: An annotated version of a chosen scene – i.e. a typescript of a scene complete with explanatory notes such as you would find in any good critical edition of a text. (You should consult with me when choosing your scene.)
Choose ONE of the following plays: Playhouse Creatures, The Libertine, Our Country’s Good, A Chorus of Disapproval, A Laughing Matter, Swollen Tongues, or An Experiment with an Air Pump. YOU CANNOT CHOOSE THE PLAY YOU PRESENTED TO THE SEMINAR.
5. Seminar Participation: The honours seminar is intended to provide the occasion for intense study and discussion. It is distinguished from the lecture course by the fact that the discussion should be largely student-generated. Active, engaged, and informed participation is a requirement for success in this course.
We have listed those editions of Restoration and eighteenth-century plays that we feel offer a level of annotation suitable for undergraduates. Most of the contemporary plays ( A Laughing Matter is a noteworthy exception) offer only the playscript. Our students liked the little Nick Hern Drama Classics (tiny, but very reasonably priced, with helpful introductions, up-to-date suggestions for further reading, glossaries, and chronologies). Those not yet familiar with this publisher may be interested in consulting their website: www.nickhernbooks.co.uk. On occasion we list Dover Thrift editions; these are incredibly inexpensive texts, but offer no annotation. Still, instructors may wish to balance the higher costs of the contemporary plays with several “no frills” editions of the older ones.
Ayckbourn, Alan. A Chorus of Disapproval. 1984. London: Samuel French, 1985.
Behn, Aphra. The Rover. 1677. Ed. Anne Russell. Second Edition. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1999. ISBN: 1551112140
OR: The “Methuen Student Edition,” edited with commentary by Bill Naismith. London: Methuen (distributed by Hushion House Publishing), 1993. ISBN: 0413668800 [Note: Includes photographs from the controversial 1986 RSC production with Jeremy Irons as Willmore]
OR: The NHB edition, edited by Simon Trussler. London: Nick Hern Books (“Drama Classics”), 1999. ISBN: 1854591789
De Angelis, April. A Laughing Matter. 2002. London: Faber and Faber, 2002. ISBN: 0571217729
De Angelis, April. Playhouse Creatures. 1993. New York: Samuel French, 1994. ISBN: 0573130078
Etherege, George. The Man of Mode. 1676. Ed. John Barnard. “New Mermaids” edition. New York: Norton, 1979. ISBN: 039390041-X [Note: The bibliography was updated in the most recent reprint of this edition in 2003]
Farquhar, George. The Recruiting Officer. 1706. Ed. Simon Trussler. London: Nick Hern Books (“Drama Classics”), 2001. ISBN: 1854593404
OR: “New Mermaids” edition of the play, edited by John Ross. Second edition. New York: Norton, 1991. ISBN: 0393900657
Gay, John. The Beggar’s Opera. 1728. Ed. Bryan Loughrey and T.O. Treadwell. London: Penguin Books (“Penguin Classics”), 1986. ISBN: 0140432205
OR: “Dover Thrift” edition. New York: Dover Publications, 1999. ISBN: 0486408884
Goldsmith, Oliver. She Stoops to Conquer. 1773. Ed. James Ogden. Second edition. “New Mermaids” edition. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393900924
OR: Nick Hern Books (“Drama Classics”) edition. ISBN: 1854594419
OR: “Dover Thrift” edition. New York: Dover Publications, 1991. ISBN: 0486268675
Jeffreys, Stephen. The Libertine. 1994/95. London: Nick Hern Books, 1995. ISBN: 1854592777
OR: Woodstock, Illinois: Dramatic Publishing, 1997. ISBN: 0871297561
[Please note that the American edition is a revised version of the play presented by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.]
Oliver, Kathleen. Swollen Tongues. 1999. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1999. ISBN: 0887545726
Stephenson, Shelagh. An Experiment with an Air-Pump. 1998. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2000. ISBN: 0822217457
OR: London: Methuen Publishing (distributed by Hushion House), 1998. ISBN: 0413733106
Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. 1993. London: Faber and Faber, 1993. ASIN: 0571169341
OR: New York: Samuel French, 1993. ISBN: 0573695660
Wertenbaker, Timberlake. Our Country’s Good. 1988. Edited with commentary by Bill Naismith. “ Methuen Student Edition.” London: Methuen, 1995. ISBN: 0413692302 [Note: Includes photographs from the 1988 Royal Court production]
OR: Woodstock, Illinois: Dramatic Publishing, 1989. ISBN: 0871293420
DVD AND VIDEO RESOURCES
A number of the plays on the course have been adapted for the screen. Some are films of staged television productions (Jonathan Miller's BBC-TV production of The Beggar's Opera), or films of stage productions (Max Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint / National Theatre co-production of She Stoops to Conquer, recorded live at The Theatre Royal, Bath), while others are adaptations of the original playscript ( A Chorus of Disapproval, for example, about which the playwright himself was disapproving, and the recent adaptation of The Libertine, which we have difficulty recommending). Of course, screening portions of these filmed versions offers students the opportunity to discuss specific performances of the past. Students might, for example, compare selections from Peter Brook’s The Beggar’s Opera (1952) starring Laurence Olivier with selections from Jonathan Miller’s 1983 production starring Roger Daltrey. Students might also watch part, or all of Michael Winner’s film of Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval (1988) starring Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Irons, and then consider how the film adaptation handles Gay's original (in contrast with how the play does). The Max Stafford-Clark production of She Stoops to Conquer (2003) (available from Films for the Humanities and Sciences: http://www.films.com) offers a wonderfully lively production with period costumes and sets; it may well be the single best DVD/Video resource available to introduce students to the theatre of the period. Finally, there is an intriguing 5-minute section on The Beggar's Opera and its progeny in Sense and Sensation: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century, a 2002 BBC production, hosted by historian John Brewer. Brewer discusses how Gay's work has "continued to inspire writers and directors" ever since the eighteenth century; he pays a visit to Catherine Haill, Curator with the Theatre Museum in London, who shows posters and publicity materials from Nick Dear's update, The Villains' Opera (produced by the National Theatre in 2000), productions of The Threepenny Opera (which, as Brewer notes, became the template for "a whole new generation of reworkings"), and Vaclav Havel's re-writing of the play.
The Beggar's Opera . Dir. Peter Brook. Perf. Laurence Olivier, Stanley Holloway. 1952. DVD. Warner Home Video. 2004.
The Beggar's Opera . Dir. Jonathan Miller. Perf. Roger Daltrey, Bob Hoskins, Patricia Routledge. 1983. DVD. Image Entertainment. 2000.
A Chorus of Disapproval . Dir. Michael Winner. Perf. Jeremy Irons, Anthony Hopkins, Prunella Scales. 1988. VHS. South Gate Entertainment, 1990.
Note: This video is frequently available (used) on Amazon.com.
The Libertine . Dir. Laurence Dunmore. Perf. Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich. 2004. DVD release: July 2006.
Sense and Sensation: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century . Pres. John Brewer. BBC. 2002. Video and DVD. Films for the Humanities and Sciences. 2003.
Note: This documentary is adapted from Brewer's book, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (1997).
She Stoops to Conquer . Dir. Max Stafford-Clark. Perf. Christopher Staines, Monica Dolan, Jane Wood. 2003. Available on Video and DVD. Films for the Humanities and Sciences. 2004.
Stage Beauty . Dir. Richard Eyre. Perf. Billy Crudup and Claire Danes. 2004 . DVD. Lions Gate Home Entertainment. 2005.
ALTERNATE TEXTS AND STRUCTURES
One of the advantages of the structure of this course is the ease with which it may be adapted. An instructor might simply use one of the pairings and incorporate it into a more conventional survey of the period, or a course on women writers, or a course on gender and sexuality, or a drama survey – there are many possibilities. If your experience resembles ours, you’ll find that students respond enthusiastically to the dialogue between the past and the present and become more aware of their contemporary assumptions and how these colour their views of the past. Of course, the work of comparison always yields different insights and new perceptions; with the addition of just one new text, a course may be enlivened and taken in exciting new directions.
A course on women's writing in the Restoration and eighteenth century might incorporate a play by Aphra Behn and pair it with April de Angelis's Playhouse Creatures, or pair Behn's writing with Canadian playwright Beth Herst's biographical play, A Woman's Comedy (1991) (we thank Carol Percy for drawing the anthology containing the play to our attention). One might also consider a larger unit on Behn (still retaining the focus on the use and performance of the past) that looked at stage adaptations of Oroonoko. A modern example (and we thank Elizabeth Kowaleski Wallace for drawing this to our attention) is 'Biyi Bandele's Oroonoko (those interested in this play may wish to consult Beth’s article “Transnationalism and Performance in 'Biyi Bandele's Oroonoko” in PMLA 119.2 : 265-281). The course might be re-balanced to give it more of an emphasis on gender and sexuality. As noted in the essay, Jeffrey Hatcher's play (upon which the film Stage Beauty was based) will soon be available through Dramatists Play Service and might be used as a course text. A course focusing on theatre history might omit a number of the later plays on the syllabus, and include Playhouse Creatures, A Laughing Matter and She Stoops To Conquer, and a unit on the reception of Shakespeare — and the creation of the Shakespeare industry — in the eighteenth century. David Garrick (who is central to A Laughing Matter) would play a large role. One might look in detail at the history of the Shakespeare Jubilee, include Garrick’s own “processional entertainment” The Jubilee (1769) and Peter Barnes’ play, commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company “to commemorate the first celebration of Shakespeare’s life and works,” Jubilee (2001). Given the number of adaptations of Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (see video mentioned above with John Brewer), one might greatly expand the unit on John Gay.
Bandele, 'Biyi. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko: In a New Adaptation by Biyi Bandele-Thomas. Charlbury: Amber Lane Press, 1999. ISBN: 1872868258.
Barnes, Peter. Jubilee. London: Methuen, 2003. ISBN: 0413761304.
Hatcher, Jeffrey. Compleat Female Stage Beauty. New York: Dramatists Play Service (Available July 30, 2006). ISBN: 0822221497.
Havel, Vaclav. The Beggar's Opera. Trans. Paul Wilson. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001. ISBN: 0801438330.
Herst, Beth. A Woman's Comedy. Canadian Theatre Review 69 (1991): 63-86.
Note: The play was also anthologized in a collection (now out of print) with the truly unfortunate title (not approved by the playwright), Big Time Women from Way Back When (Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1993). Used copies are available at http://www.allbookstores.com/. Please note: The complete script is available in the Canadian Theatre Review (cited above).
Quoted in Sara Soncini, Playing with(in) the Restoration: Metatheatre as a Strategy of Appropriation in Contemporary Rewritings of Restoration Drama (Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1999), 212.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU: Professor Zeitz wishes to acknowledge the unique contribution made to the genesis of this course by Dr. Bruce J. Kirby, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Statistics at Queen's University in Kingston -- without whose incredible enthusiasm for theatre, the idea for "Performing the Past" would never have occurred.