Most Teachable Non-Shakespearean Drama
|The brief discussion in the comments to a post a couple days ago got me thinking: which non-Shakespearean play was the most successful for you in the undergraduate classroom? I haven't had a huge amount of experience with the basic Tudor/Stuart Drama class, or with opportunities to teach a non-Shakespearean play in other classes, but so far I'd say the ones that taught the best and got the most enthusiastic responses on the course evaluations were The Revenger's Tragedy and The Jew of Malta. Probably Revenger's most of all. My students absolutely loved that play (and not just the men in the class, either); the combination of sex and violence is an obvious appeal. But they were also fascinated by the play's engagement with Renaissance discourses surrounding death and bodily remains (the memento mori, scientific anatomy, saints' relics and anti-Catholic attacks on them): no doubt college students are pondering death as much as sex during those 2 am dorm-hallway disquisitions. And they loved discussing gender in this play: the relation of Vindice's Gloriana to Queen Elizabeth, the bizarre scene where Antonio displays to his fellow lords the corpse of his wife, who has committed suicide after being raped, as though she were a prized piece of statuary (his "last duchess"?). For whatever reason, this play more than any other made the gender issues we'd been discussing throughout the semester really clear and vital for them. What surprised me--maybe it shouldn't have--was how much the women in the class enjoyed the play. I had been a little anxious about teaching it because it's so gruesomely misogynistic, so much about the objectifying (quite literally) of (dead) women's bodies. But what seemed to strike the women (in addition to what struck everyone--that it is an incredibly well-made, exciting, and powerful drama) was how the play carried to almost farcical extremes, and so cast into stark relief for examination, questions about women's bodies that are still very much with us.|
I'll be teaching non-Shakespearean drama in the fall at my new institution, so I'd love to hear which play has taught best for you, and (if it's even possible to explain, and I'm not sure it always is) why.