English 4312: Studies In Drama
British Romantic Drama
Response Paper #1 Prompts
Use the following prompts to guide your thinking and writing. Be specific in your response, and cite direct quotations from the plays and/or reviews in-text parenthetically. Remember that this Response Paper may be the beginnings of your Critical Analysis, and so make it useful.
- Discuss the ways in which A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Everyone Has His Fault, and/or The Tryal explore and expose the limitations on women imposed by courtship customs and the marriage contract. How do these comedies ridicule the double standard of gendered behavior in courtship and marriage? How do the women characters take control of their lives and deploy clever machinations in order to circumvent the artificial decorum that they find binding? How is the “woman as property” notion questioned?
- Discuss the role of geography in A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Everyone Has His Fault, and The Tryal. Why would Hannah Cowley, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Joanna Baillie locate their comedies in Madrid, London, and Bath? How do they use these settings to complement the themes of their plays, especially the latent critiques raised by plays written and staged in the 1780s and 1790s, in the midst of political revolutions, class destabilizations, commerce and industry?
- Discuss the gender-bending made possible by disguise, cross-dressing, masquerades, and mistaken identities in A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Everyone Has His Fault, and/or The Tryal. What can characters—especially female characters—accomplish in disguise that they cannot as themselves? What do the plays’ uses of disguise reveal about play-acting and about the meta-theatrical nature of these comedies? How do these manipulations of stage effects address matters of women’s rights?
- Discuss the legal critiques exposed in Everyone Has His Fault and or The Tryal (e.g., marriage, divorce, custody laws, bankruptcy and robbery, the law profession, courtroom practices). How do the comedies expose the masculine privilege embedded in late eighteenth-century legal institutions and activities? How do the comedies satirize the legal profession? What is the effect of that satire?
- Discuss the ways in which A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Everyone Has His Fault, and/or The Tryal exploit the motif of madness to create humor at the manifest level of content and to challenge the popular medical notions of hysteria as a feminine quality at the latent level of content? At this time of political frenzy, “madness” took on connotations associated with government, economics, and society as well as medicine, and so it was a useful trope for expressing chaos on multiple levels. Show us how that occurs in these comedies.
- Compare and contrast Victoria and Olivia from A Bold Stroke for a Husband with Agnes and Mariane from The Tryal as women who arrange their marital affairs in contrast to those of the prevailing culture. How do the women manipulate the men to achieve their ends? How do you think women in the theatrical audience would have perceived these brazen characters? What kind of moral example are they acting out for the audience? What would have been revolutionary about what they did, what they represented?
- Compare and contrast Don Caesar from A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Captain Irwin from Everyone Has His Fault and Harwood from The Tryal as men who are sorely tested in the comedies by Cowley, Inchbald and Baillie. How is each man humbled for his foibles and reformed by strong female characters? What do they reveal about the stereotypes of masculinity and the crisis of masculinity at the end of the eighteenth century?
- Compare and contrast the reading of A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Everyone Has His Fault, and/or The Tryal with your participating in the production or viewing as a spectator a recent (within the last three months) play. What happens in reading a play that does not occur on the stage? How does the spectacle of performance and production alter the reading script? Think about the ways our class readings and the listening of eighteenth-century theatrical music enriched your reading of the play, and comment on those dimensions. What do these comedies’ reviews indicate about the dynamic between the stage and “closet” version of drama?
- Create your own prompt. Please feel free to discuss anything you are thinking about with me.