"Teaching the Teachings of the Stage: A Graduate Seminar on Restoration to Romantic Drama"
Emily Hodgson Anderson, University of Southern California
The theatre is a school in which much good or evil may be learned.
—Joanna Baillie, "Introductory Discourse,"
1. This essay addresses two questions that motivated the design of my new graduate seminar: why I extended the survey to include
romantic drama, and why I believe romantic drama is particularly suited to a discussion of the pedagogical process. In the
introduction to Romantic Pedagogy Commons, the editors explain that
this journal presents articles
about how teaching works. Occasionally, in an essay about teaching, the writer of the essay will say, 'Then I get students to
see that . . . .' Sometimes whatever follows the 'that' is in fact less significant than what has been elided. What's missing
is an answer to the question, HOW? How do you get students to see what you see in a text? (Mandell)
This apt observation underlines that, when we teach or talk about our teaching, it is much
easier to focus on our goal, what
we want to teach our students, than on the process by which we achieve that goal.
Pedagogy defies definition, in part because our teaching truly is a performance—scripted to a certain extent, but dependent on
mood, on audience, on time—and so bounded by the rules of performance. Our teaching can never be repeated exactly the same way
each time we do it, and the act of teaching is always slipping determinedly into the past. We emerge from a good class, or a bad
one, with a record of what we have conveyed yet only a memory of how we have done so.
2. Of course, none of these factors mean that we cannot discuss how we teach (only why these discussions are difficult), and I
have always found that teaching drama gives me a model for how to reflect on my own teaching practice. Teaching a genre contingent
upon performance reminds me that we cannot understand "what" without talking about "how." Teaching drama trains me to comprehend
theory and practice simultaneously, and as a result I'm more ready to bring this approach to the subject of teaching itself. But
recently, as I began to work more with those plays classified as "romantic dramas," I discovered that drama could be more than a
model. Romantic drama in particular seems interested in how theatrical practice works as a pedagogical strategy, so that the
"what" these plays are all about becomes the "how" that we as scholars and teachers tend to efface. For instance, when Marjean D. Purinton presents the metatheatrics of Joanna
Baillie's comedy The Tryal as "a pedagogical strategy offering women an alternative
relationship to power" (133), her statement suggests the point of the play rests not just in what women are taught, but in the
method by which women are taught it: through theater. This focus then reflects metatheatrically on the function of Joanna Baillie's play, such that "The Tryal makes its own pretense as
theatre ironically powerful as a teaching tool" (Purinton 133).
3. So what should romantic drama teach us? "The Drama improves us by the knowledge we acquire of our own minds, from the natural
desire we have to look into the thoughts, and observe the behaviour of others," Baillie states in
the introductory preface to her Plays on the Passions (90). Baillie here
seems to outline first a method and then a goal: by observing the "varieties of the human mind," by "examining others," we may in
turn "know ourselves" ("Preface" 76, 74). Both her choice to write drama and her insistence that her plays were intended for the
stage make sense in light of these methods, as the observation and examination of others would seem to be best fulfilled in the
embodied realm of performance ("Preface" 108-9).  But because
of these methods, the "what" these plays are supposed to teach us—to know ourselves, to know our own minds—is a quantity always to
be discovered, contingent as it is upon the infinite varieties and behaviors we can observe. More properly, Baillie is invested in teaching method: we learn from her plays how to know ourselves.
When studied from this perspective, these plays reveal that self-knowledge, the pedagogical "goal" of Baillie and many other romanticists, is itself a process far more than a precept. And when studied from this
perspective, Baillie's plays allow us to have methodologically oriented discussions that reflect
more generally on the practice of teaching, itself.
4. The links between subjectivity and pedagogy in the romantic period run wide and deep, and my graduate seminar builds to these
links by situating Baillie's plays at the end of a historical survey of drama. The survey has a
practical function—my class is perhaps the only course in eighteenth-century literature that my graduate students will take, and I
feel responsible for providing coverage—but it has an intellectual purpose as well. I want my students to experience the liminal
moments in literary history, to make connections among literary periods sometimes presented as distinct. The survey format also
means that, by the time we reach romantic drama, we can discuss why plays that reflect on the pedagogical benefits of performance
are also suited to explore the issues of subjectivity and self-knowledge with which they engage.
5. The stated rubric of my course is that eighteenth-century plays depict identity as both metaphorically and literally
theatrical. Our readings from the eighteenth century, texts from The Rover, to The
Beggar's Opera, to The Belle's Stratagem, illustrate that an awareness of actual theatrical
practice informs the way characters stage their identities in the "offstage" regions of these plays. I want students to think
about how these observations resonate in provocative ways with contemporary theories of gender and identity construction, and I
also want students to think about how current scholars are using terms from theater history in more theoretical ways. I therefore
pair our primary readings for each week with a specific keyword, taken from theater / performance / gender studies, that
reinforces in some way the themes of the text. Every student must choose one such word, research its theatrical and
theoretical applications, and share a brief essay on their findings with the class. Keywords range from "ritual," to "masquerade,"
to "spectacle." By the time we get to "performativity," students recognize that we have already been using the word, in its
current theoretical sense of acts or behaviors that construct the state of being they purport to express, to describe many acts of
theatrical performance explored within these eighteenth-century plays. For example, we discuss the way a comedy such as Hannah Cowley's The Belle's Stratagem explores the idea of pre-existing
social roles by having its title character move through a series of different and overtly theatrical roles onstage. These
connections between "performativity" and "performance" (and I have the presenting student read at least the introduction to the
Parker and Sedgwick collection of essays on this topic)
encourage us to read the ideas about subjectivity considered in these plays in terms of evolutions—or continuities—in theatrical
practice. I then pair our final keyword, "theatricality," with Baillie's Plays
on the Passions, so that students will question the closeted nature of her plays and discuss to what extent
theatricality can still characterize texts that are not actively performed.
6. Thus, as we move into our romantic plays and challenge their delineation as "closet dramas," we also create the potential for
more continuity between eighteenth-century and romantic conceptions of subjectivity than is currently assumed.  Dror Wharman's recent book The Making of the
Modern Self offers one version of the kind of polarized view we challenge. In this book, Wahrman argues that "selfhood" in the short eighteenth century (the version of the century that eschews the romantic
period) was understood as something Protean, superficial, something Wahrman calls "socially turned"
(168). Not until the end of the century, he claims, did identity come to be understood as something more essentialist and
interior—the romantic idea of the self.  Yet Wahrman mistakenly invokes eighteenth-century theater as illustrative of, even
responsible for, this shift. He claims that "the [eighteenth-century] actor…was expected to believe in his own actual
metamorphosis in order to achieve the ideal dramatic effect," so that if an eighteenth-century audience witnessed an actress in a
breeches part, it would read the performance as indicative of "a playful splitting of identity, a splitting literal rather than
metaphorical" (172, 176). Contrary to Wahrman's assertions, the necessary identification of an
actor with his or her part was in fact the subject of much debate in the eighteenth century, as our reading from Diderot's Paradoxe sur le comédien makes clear. At the same time, our dramatic readings showcase
characters who do identify with the theatrical roles they adopt, but for very different reasons, and with very different results,
than the ones Wahrman suggests. Many of our plays include characters who adopt parts and put on
roles, not always in an effort to reinvent themselves (Wahrman), nor with the ability or desire to
retain some theatrical detachment from the role they take up (Diderot), but in a conscious effort to convey sentiments that would
otherwise be inexpressible. Cowley's Letitia Hardy fits into this characterization, as do Behn's Hellena and Goldsmith's Kate Hardcastle. As these characters
flit from persona to persona, their roles are connected by a consistent, self-defining emotion that the various roles allow them
to convey. Indeed, the Goldsmith and Cowley heroines make
students think back to Eliza Haywood's heroine Fantomina, the titular character from one of the few non-dramatic pieces we read.
In all these cases, the theatrical "splittings of identity" emerge as a characteristic performance strategy that creates a link,
not simply a gap, between self and persona, with a relationship between the two that is not necessarily deceptive.
7. The eighteenth-century "self" seems much less Protean in this context, much less superficial, and much more associated with
the sense of coherence and interiority that accompanies later romantic models of subjectivity. By the same token, these
characteristics of romanticism emerge as a continuation of, not a deviation from, the ideas about subjectivity embodied on the
eighteenth-century stage. Yet within this continuum any sense of interiority is constructed by the reiteration of theatrical acts,
a rather un-romantic revision of essentialism. Imagine, for instance, how a student coming from a survey of eighteenth-century
plays would read the following passage from Baillie's tragedy De
Monfort, the moment at which Lady Jane De Monfort has tracked her conflicted brother to his friend Count Freberg's
residence. Desperate to learn why De Monfort has fled their home, Jane takes Freberg's advice and veils herself, so that she may
accost her brother while her own identity is obscured:
Jane (to Freb.):
Pardon me this presumption, courteous sir:
I thus appear, (pointing to her veil,) not careless of respect
Unto the gen'rous lady of the feast.
Beneath this veil no beauty shrouded is,
That, now, or pain, or pleasure can bestow.
Within the friendly cover of its shade
I only wish unknown, again to see
One who, alas!—is heedless of my pain…
…he who has, alas! Forsaken me
Was the companion of my early days,
My cradle's mate, mine infant play-fellow…
…he is my brother.
De Mon: And he forsook thee?—No, I dare not curse him:
My heart upbraids me with a crime like his.
Jane: Ah! Do not thus distress a feeling heart.
All sisters are not to the soul entwin'd
With equal bands; thine has not watch'd for thee,
Weep'd for thee, cheer'd thee, shar'd thy weal and woe,
As I have done for him.
De Mon: (Eagerly.) Ha! Has she not?
By heaven! The sum of all thy kindly deeds
Were but as chaff pois'd against the massy gold,
Compar'd to that which I do owe her love.
Oh pardon me! I mean not to offend—
I am too warm—but she of whom I speak
Is the dear sister of my earliest love;
In noble virtuous worth to none a second:
And tho' behind those sable folds were hid
As fair a face as ever women own'd,
Still would I say she is as fair as thee.
…Forgive, I pray you! O forgive this boasting!
In faith! I mean you no discourtesy.
Jane (Off her guard, in a soft natural tone of voice.): Oh no! nor do me any. (2.1.195-244)
Jane's conduct in this passage is at once theatrical and experimental, as she dons a mask in an attempt to
assess "the temper of [her brother's] mind" (2.1.104). But the effect of Jane's disguise is surprising, for it prompts De Monfort
to compare her to the person she actually is. Her face, behind those sable folds, is
exactly as fair as the face that
De Monfort imagines, her kindly deeds measure up precisely to the obligations her brother praises. Jane's disguise also means she
belies herself when she claims "all sisters are not to the soul entwin'd / with equal bands." The sisters she describes are
actually only one sister, the bands she describes exactly equivalent. All sisters conflate within her sable folds, so that De
Monfort when confronted with her veil may see—correctly—the sister of whom he speaks.
8. Her performance says much about the evolution and nature of romantic subjectivity. First, students will recognize that Jane
takes her cue from a slew of earlier dramatic heroines. Like Letitia's or Fantomina's acts of disguise, Jane's masking becomes an
expressive not an obfuscating act, and De Monfort would be better served by taking her at face value than by seeking to see
something different beneath her veil. But Jane's veil is expressive in that it is evocative of the self upon which it is layered.
The theater's use of costumes and vizards provides a physical source for the metaphorical layering that occurs in theatrical
presentation, so that as theatrical presentation provides a surface, it simultaneously suggests an element of depth. Theatrical
performance becomes an efficacious form of expression in this scene as it offers up the very surfaces that reinforce a subject's
depth and dimensionality; selfhood in this model remains internalized, even as its interiority is perpetuated by the theatrical
acts that confirm it.
9. Jane's masquerade also has a clear teaching purpose that reinforces this reading of subjectivity as consistently
multi-layered. She may speak as a sister in this scene only because she is veiled, and thus only because De Monfort assumes he is
not the brother of whom she speaks. She may express her familial feelings precisely because they are articulated during a
performance, which suggests that even when the masks characters don are expressive and not obfuscating the interiority-producing
layer of the mask is essential to maintain. Furthermore, it is crucial to De Monfort's reaction that he be "caught up in the act"
without quite knowing that he has become so. Jane's theatrical display encourages in her brother neither catharsis nor even
vicarious sympathy. De Monfort experiences something more psychoanalytic, as the act of witnessing Jane's performance brings his
own latent passions to the surface and forces him to come to terms with them. 
10. Yet performance becomes pedagogical only under specific conditions. As the wronged sister, Jane consciously adopts a role
that communicates her own feelings. She performs her part with an unexpected emotional honesty, and her ultimate influence over
her brother derives from the fact that she is not only like the sister of whom she speaks, but she is the sister herself. De
Monfort, on the other hand, does not know he is participating in a performance until Jane unmasks. In Baillie's play, acts of performance shift from entertaining to instructive when they are crafted so that their
specific didactic purpose is somewhat obscured, and so that the intended student audience (in this case, De Monfort) is at least
temporarily unaware of the scene's crafted nature.  For the typical theater audience tucked safely behind a fourth wall, the conditions of performance are both more apparent
and less interactive. Yet by incorporating models of pedagogical performance within themselves, plays like De
Monfort reflect suggestively on their own pedagogical function. Indeed, by framing pedagogical moments within the play
as covertly didactic, the play reclaims its own generic conventions as advantageous to its didactic project. The broader
convention of the stage, which seems to require that the theater audience observe yet not participate in the dialogues they
witness, also insists that the play's pedagogical claims on its external audience be at least temporarily disguised. (In this
model, Baillie's "Introductory Discourse" becomes akin to the explication of Jane's unmasking.)
The theater audience thus shares a position with DeMonfort, as both are unaware of exactly how they are engaged and implicated in
the didactic project of the performance before them, while this temporary suspension of awareness is encouraged by and crucial to
the pedagogical program outlined within the play itself.
11. In the classroom, we are much more attuned to the fact that we are teaching or being taught, though here too we can be
subtle about how our goals are advertised or achieved. For instance, I publicize my graduate course as a course on "staging
identity," though my publicized interest in subjectivity and my closeted interest in pedagogy ultimately align. A tenet that
remains consistent among rationalist and romantic ideas of education alike is that the preceptor is not a dictator so much as a
guide (Richardson). The student must learn how to learn; they must, as Maria Edgeworth puts it, learn to "think and reason for [themselves]" (297). The educator in this
model does not disseminate facts so much as lead students toward personal discoveries, so that students have for themselves the
experience of proving theorems, of testing precepts. And for the student—be he a doctoral candidate or the tormented De Monfort—to
learn from experience, he must be able to react to a staged circumstance with his own emotions. The good teacher both creates and
obscures the conditions that enable this emotional reaction to occur. In other words, teaching, when done well, obscures its
12. What I have learned, then, in teaching romantic drama is that students need guidance, but that they also need to reach
conclusions on their own. In the case of my graduate seminar, they need to experience for themselves the instructive, constructive
relationship of performance to subjectivity. So in addition to having my students attend productions of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera and a dramatic adaptation of Mansfield
Park (which the USC School of Theatre very conveniently scheduled to overlap with my seminar), I have my class
conclude with a student performance that coincides with their final reading assignment in Austen's novel Mansfield Park. As a class, they must agree upon one scene from all the plays we have read, cast the actors, decide
on whatever props will be necessary, and rehearse to whatever extent they see fit. The preparation for the assignment asks them to
review the plays and themes from throughout the semester, but it also asks them to mimic the process of decision and rehearsal
that frames Mansfield Park's controversial home theatricals. We have shared an experience with the
Crawfords and the Bertrams and should never read the novel in quite the same way, again.
13. More specifically, the actual staging gives us a chance to discuss how performance intensifies one's experience of a scene
and why performance, in the nineteenth-century context of Austen's novel, might be considered risky. As we discuss, Fanny's
discomfort with the playacting in the novel responds on some level to the fact that Austen's characters pair off in a manner that
reflects their real life affections, so that the rehearsals become a chance to act on the flirtatious impulses that might
otherwise be kept in check. And as the strategic space between actor and role is lost, the personal expressions of these
actors—more than theatricality itself—become the subject of Austen's critique.
14. So unlike Baillie's play, in which the assumed discrepancy between actor and role provides
Jane De Monfort the space and opportunity for self-expression, Austen's novel depicts an unmediated understanding of performance,
and the theater in this novel is disbanded exactly when it has become recognized as an expressive more than a performative space.
But as we approach this novel at the end of our survey of texts, and concurrent with our own attempts to choose and enact roles,
we find ourselves discussing expression and performativity as dialectical, not antithetical, concepts. Our historical survey shows
us instead that what varies from play to play is not the project of the theater, so much as the audience sensitivity towards one
or the other potential of theatrical performance and, correspondingly, an author's manipulation of this sensitivity through his or
her framing of the act of performance itself.
15. Yet by ending our seminar with a novel, we also end with a question: if performance and the associated behaviors of
observation and participation were so crucial to a romantic program of education, why is it that the novel and the closet drama
(genres that do not require performance) become the dominant genres for conveying pedagogy? The rise of the novel in all its
didactic glory is something critics acknowledge, and this is a genre we discuss at least briefly in our class. I also want to
mention here the plethora of "academic dramas" that marked the end of the century, the proliferation of dramatic dialogues that
were seen as "lesson[s] in the guise of play[s]" though plays that were never meant to be performed. Why does pedagogy become increasingly associated with the closet drama, increasingly detached from actual performance?
16. This shift reveals, I believe, that the key to romantic pedagogy is not embodiment, per se, but mediated experience:
physical observation or interaction is ultimately less crucial to romantic pedagogies than the notion that we
learn about ourselves through others. This claim offers an alternate reading of romantic drama, one that reveals the
pedagogical potential of theater to rest in more than just its ability to encourage audience observation of embodied roles. If we
go back to Baillie's play, we see that Jane's physical presence is actually less important to De
Monfort's epiphany (indeed, he does not know that Jane is present) than the means by which she communicates with her brother: from
behind a mask, and by directing her explanation for the mask—not to her brother, for whom both mask and explanation are clearly
meant—but to Count Freberg, the very man who advocated the disguise. In this scene, Jane highlights a key component of all
playacting, and a characteristic of theatricality: not embodiment, but mediation. The act of acting is by definition the act of
conveying ideas or thoughts via intermediate roles. And yet, on the stage this process is often all too overt, especially if the
theatrical nature of a performance must be obscured for it to function in a pedagogical manner. Closet drama (and, I would argue,
a novel such as Mansfield Park, which juxtaposes its own generic conventions to the current unmediated
conventions of the Bertram's theater) interrupt what Martin Puchner calls the "unmediated
theatricality of the stage" (22). The closet drama insists that the theatrical process itself be mediated; paradoxically enough,
it restores the theatricality to drama and thus drama's pedagogical potential.
17. I therefore believe that romantic drama can teach us much about teaching and even more about why we teach literature, of any
genre or period. As students, teachers, and lovers of books—a body of people who often struggle to define the value of theorizing
about imaginary heroines, dead authors, and subjective readings—we learn from romantic drama to focus on the benefits, indeed the
necessity, of learning about ourselves through others. Additionally, these plays remind us that teaching is not about a set of
definitions but about shared methods, experiences, and a collective process of discovery. We are passionate about what we read and
teach because we have felt the benefit of emotional and intellectual engagement with what we read and teach. And we know that
literature, as that which provides such an experience, can teach us something about ourselves.