ONLINE THEATER HISTORY COURSE
Shakespearean Tragedy and Tragicomedy, Italian Style
Not only are almost half of Shakespeare’s plays set in Italy, but his dynamic and provocative drama makes crucial use of numerous Italian plots, tropes, character types, theatrical devices, and cultural connotations. Like many of his comedies, several of his tragedies remain fresh and vigorous today thanks to the lively contrasts and rich variety of their Italian style. The avant-garde Italian drama of Shakespeare’s time also enabled him to experiment with a third genre, called “tragicomedy,” during the final years of his exceptionally successful career. In this course, we’ll pursue close comparative study and interactive discussion of three much-admired and frequently performed plays, to enhance our understanding of how their Italianate qualities continue to provoke serious thought as well as strong emotional reactions from audiences across the globe, over four hundred years after their first productions. By focusing on scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest, we will be able to gain fresh insights into the parallels and differences among these tragedies—but also tragicomedies, especially The Tempest–of love, desire, and political conflict. With the support of powerpoint lecture presentations, we will pursue informed, open-minded inquiry into these innovative plays’ respective treatments of such matters as Mediterranean myths and history, erotic passion vs. social-political pressure, poetic fantasy vs. prosaic reality, female vs. patriarchal power, Selfhood and “Otherness,” relations between ancient and “New” Worlds, and the capacity of Love to triumph over death.
A special feature of the course is the opportunity to imagine and propose specific ways for bringing these classic Italian style plays from the page to the stage. Participants will be encouraged to approach them as interactive scripts that pose challenging questions and invite a wide variety of interpretations, precisely because of their creative, often volatile, and always stimulating mix of English and “made in Italy” qualities.
- To understand how Shakespearean tragedy and tragicomedy adapt Italian culture, literature, and performing arts, in a variety of game-changing and audience-involving ways
- To cultivate historically informed close readings and analyses of classic theatrical scripts, that in turn enable fresh interpretations
- To explore how the early modern genre of tragedy, as developed by Shakespeare and his Italian role models and colleagues, transforms classical Greek and Roman models under the influence of contemporary political, cultural, and aesthetic criteria
- To discover how late Renaissance Italian and English authors, actors, and audiences together developed a new hybrid genre, known as “tragicomedy,” that mixes laughter and tears, the frivolous and the serious, the amorous with the political,
the imaginary with the real, etc., often with a focus on the “civilized” human world’s relationship with the natural world
- To consider and discuss precise comparisons among diverse scripts, and to apply related creative ideas and insights to proposals for performing Shakespeare’s Italian style tragedies and tragicomedies in the twenty-first century
For the past twenty years, Eric Nicholson (Ph.D., Yale University) has been teaching courses in literature and theatre studies at Syracuse University Florence, and at New York University, Florence. At both these venues and elsewhere, he has also directed numerous productions of classic plays, among them Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Tempest. Beyond lecturing, directing, and publishing widely in his field, Eric’s professional activity extends to acting, voice work, and public presentation: credits include Oberon in the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino production of Purcell’s Fairy Queen (Teatro Goldoni Florence, 2013), and Fool/Theseus in “Promised Endings: an Experimental Work-in-Progress based on Oedipus at Colonus and King Lear” (Verona, 2018). He is the narrator of the English video documentary for the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Firenze, and of English audio guides to museums in the Tuscan cities of Grosseto, and Massa Marittima. In full historical costume, he has appeared as Lorenzo the Magnificent, Leonardo da Vinci, and others in several live performance events, videos, and broadcasts, and most recently (2021) as Dante and Boccaccio for Rocky Ruggiero: Making Art and History Come to Life.
Virtual Classroom: Full access to an online educational platform with syllabus, videos of recordings, reading list, podcasts, discussion forum, and more.
Location: LIVE INTERACTIVE ON-LINE THEATER LECTURES
Readings to be provided to students in PDF format prior to the beginning of course.
Complete syllabus will be provided upon registration.
- ALL LECTURES WILL BE RECORDED AND AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING AT YOUR CONVENIENCE IN OUR VIDEO LIBRARY FOR THE DURATION OF THE COURSE