English 4312: Studies in Drama
British Romantic Drama
Response Paper #2 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 to write about a play or plays that could be integrated into your Researched Critical Analysis, if you can.
- We might read Joanna Baillie’s 1798 tragedy De Monfort as a problem play about mental illness or as an interiorized, psychological drama in which Baillie exaggerates the passion of “hatred” in order to show its consequences. Discuss the play as a case study in psychology or mental illness, with particular attention to how and why Baillie inverts the period’s expectations of a gendered mentality in the context of codified descriptions of masculinity and femininity.
- We might read Joanna Baillie’s 1798 tragedy De Monfort as a play that challenges the heterosexual romance (fairy tale) plot with its motifs of incest and homoeroticism. How does Baillie’s drama manipulate the Jane/De Monfort/Rezenvelt romance triangle? How do the Count and Countess Freberg function as the heterosexual comic foil to De Monfort and Rezenvelt? What might this “play on the passions” be exploring or challenging about the period’s expectations of courtship and marriage, the self-loathing generated by cultural expectations of heterosexuality?
- We might read Joanna Baillie’s 1798 tragedy De Monfort, as Daniel Watkins has, as a play about the waning aristocratic class’s resentment towards the emerging bourgeoisie at the end of the eighteenth century. This approach to the drama suggests that De Monfort’s hatred for Rezenvelt is generated by his own sense of loss of class privilege and his recognition that men like Rezenvelt will soon wield political and social power. Demonstrate how the play explores the issue of British class struggles displaced onto medieval Germany.
- Joanna Baillie’s 1812 gothic tragedy Orra critiques the courtship/marriage contract of the early nineteenth century in its reworking of the conventional rescue (fairy tale) story as a nightmare, what Orra calls “dreadful waking.” How is Orra a drama about the “heroine’s” fear of her own sexuality (femininity) disguised as ignorance, darkness, and superstition? How is feudal romance and chivalry (St. Michael’s Eve) depicted to be as oppressive as the marriage contract?
- Marjean Purinton has argued that medical explanations for gendered diseases (such as hysteria and hypochondria) are rendered “science fictions” (fables) in the stagings of ghosts and the tellings of ghost stories in Joanna Baillie’s 1812 gothic tragedy Orra, a play about fear. Discuss the motif of hysteria and madness that is featured in the play. What does Orra’s thrill-seeking, vicarious scare, and gendered fear reveal about the emergent medical explanations of insanity at the beginning of the nineteenth century?
- We might read Joanna Baillie’s 1812 gothic tragedy Orra as a play about legitimacy. Who is the legitimate heir? Who is the culture’s (Suabian forest on the border of Germany and Switzerland) outlaw? Who has authority over Orra? What happens if Orra marries Theobald rather than Glottenbal? Why is Rudigere not an appropriate suitor for Orra? How might all this anxiety over medieval German legitimacy constitute anxiety about British class dissolutions during the early nineteenth century? How might all this anxiety over borders (geographical, sexual, familial) constitute early nineteenth-century British anxieties about the breaches of commercial and colonial borders?
- We might read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1814 tragedy Remorse as a play that explores the question of identity. How does this play deploy theatricality and disguise to examine the issue of identity? How does the play deploy gender-bending and gender slippages as a way of exposing how identity was in a major state of crisis? How does the play invert the conventional order of things in order to disassociate conventional meanings from their signifiers and identification from identity?
- As Julie Carlson has shown, the female characters in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1814 tragedy Remorse are problematic and complex. How is the newly emerging bourgeois woman (Teresa) held up as the feminine ideal? How does the play challenge Teresa as somehow missing the ideal mark? How might spectators and readers view Alhadra’s gender-bending characterization? Is the play fundamentally hostile towards women? Is Remorse a fundamentally misogynist tragedy?
- Like Hannah Cowley’s 1783 comedy A Bold Stroke for a Husband, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1814 tragedy Remorse is set in Spain. By 1814, however, the British “othering” of the East was an act of colonial privilege, and so Remorse uses its setting in more serious and sinister ways than the earlier comedy had. The conflict between Muslim Moors and Spanish Catholics depicted in the background of Coleridge’s play recapitulate cultural understandings of inferior/superior complexions articulated in the Black Legend, for example, of British conflicts with its colonized Near East and Far East subjects. How does Remorse, then, displace contemporary colonial issues onto the landscape of Spain in 1569?
- We can read P. B. Shelley’s 1819 tragedy The Cenci as a family story, the story of a dysfunctional family, the story of familial abuse. But it is a family story that is hard to tell, as Beatrice discovers in her inability to name what has happened to her and her inability to describe what she is. Can Beatrice construct a survivor’s story, or does she lack the means? Is she grappling with bodily disgust that paralyzes her abilities to articulate what has happened and how she feels? Why does she insist that she is innocent? Discuss the ways in which the tragedy dramatizes the limitations of language and how Beatrice has to find agency in other venues than language and speech.
- We can read P. B. Shelley’s 1819 tragedy The Cenci in a performative context. After all, P. B. Shelley (with the help of Mary Shelley’s translation) is rehearsing the actual story of Beatrice Cenci in dramatic form. But in the drama, is Beatrice ever herself or does she perform the identity and the role of others around her? Is her conduct modeled on her own sense of morality, or does she adopt Cenci’s methods in her design to play the “avenging angel”? Does she assimilate patterns of behavior from the assassins? Does she absorb the role of the Judge and Cardinal Camillo? How does she act in the presence of Lucretia? Does Beatrice try to replace her departed mother? Discuss the theatricality and performativity in The Cenci.
- We can read P. B. Shelley’s 1819 tragedy The Cenci as a play about madness and criminality at multiple levels in Italian society in 1599. What does the tragedy reveal about the hegemony of the male public body as the seat of authority? What happens to religious and civil order when there is no justice, no checks and balances? Is parricide more criminal than incest? Is Francesco Cenci more of a “mad” monster than Beatrice Cenci? Have the assassins gone mad? How are we to feel at the end of the play?
- Devise your own writing prompt, especially one that brings one or more of these tragedies into discussion that will benefit you in your work on the Critical Analysis. You may also wish to discuss more than one play from the perspective of any of the prompts I have constructed.