ONLINE THEATER HISTORY COURSE
“Venice, Superstar City of the Shakespearean Stage”
“Queen of the Adriatic,” “The Most Serene Republic (la Serenissima)”, “City of Water,” “The Floating City,” “City of Bridges”: Venice goes by all these names and more, including “City of Masks,” an especially appropriate one for the focus of our course. During the late medieval and early modern period (14th through 18th centuries), Venice was not only Europe’s most cosmopolitan city, but also its favorite Playground, in every sense. Renowned for its stable, long-standing form of republican government, its land and sea empire, and its economic vigor as “the common and general market to the whole world,” Venice also fascinated and sometimes troubled northern Europeans as a site of gambling, luxurious hedonism, prostitution and sexual tourism, as well as spectacular festivities, pageants, processions, musical concerts, and theatrical entertainments of all kinds. Its complex blend of the real and the imaginary, of natural-artistic beauty and grace with potential moral and physical corruption, gave this unique urban center an almost irresistible allure. Leading English playwrights like William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson could count on their audiences’ desire to glimpse versions of the Reality and Myth of Venice acted out on London stages. Thus a particularly Venetian quality marks Shakespeare’s use of Italian plots, tropes, character types, and cultural connotations in The Merchant of Venice and Othello, both of which hinge on clashing perceptions and treatments of minority outsiders by a sometimes tolerant, sometimes discriminatory host society. By comparing these two highly provocative dramas with Jonson’s hilarious and zestily satiric Volpone—produced one year after Othello, and likewise as compelling to audiences today as it was over 400 years ago—we will be able to deepen our understanding of how they achieve their complex, challenging theatrical dynamism through the lively contrasts and rich variety of their Venetian style and atmosphere. In short, we will recognize how Venice becomes a kind of superstar performer in these exceptionally brilliant plays.
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 inter-active 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 explore and understand the mythical image of the real-life city of early modern Venice, and how this mix of fact and fantasy was expressed in plays written and staged by Shakespeare and his contemporaries
- To examine how the unique island Republic of Venice, especially as an innovative leader in politics, commerce, architecture, painting, literature, and performing arts, influenced English culture in a variety of game-changing ways
- To consider how the genre of comedy, as developed by Shakespeare, Jonson, and their Italian—and especially Venetian–role models and colleagues of the “Commedia dell’Arte,” can be serious as well as funny, often at the same time
- To cultivate historically informed close readings and analyses of classic English theatrical scripts that in turn enable fresh interpretations, especially of dramatic portrayals of such matters as financial competition, international warfare, civil rights, and ethnic-religious tolerance, prejudice, and injustice
- To consider and discuss precise comparisons among diverse scripts, and to apply related creative ideas and insights to proposals for performing Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s Venice plays in the twenty-first century
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