Staging Identity in Eighteenth-Century England: Syllabus

Staging Identity in Eighteenth-Century England: Restoration to Romantic Drama

  • Professor Anderson
  • ENGL 530
  • Fall 2006
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…
—Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.7.139-40


While the concept of theatrum mundi, or the metaphor of the world as a stage, is one of the most durable in intellectual history, in the eighteenth century the analogy had been carried so far that Henry Fielding would observe, "when transactions behind the curtain are mentioned, St. James's is more likely to occur to our thoughts than Drury Lane." Eighteenth-century life revolved around theater that existed outside the playhouse—and yet, it did so because it concurrently revolved around the theater that existed within it. The metaphor was so powerful because the model for it was so prevalent.

This course asks us to consider these conscious links between the offstage and onstage regions of eighteenth-century life and to reflect on how these links affect eighteenth-century conceptions of identity. What does it mean that, in the eighteenth century, selfhood is depicted as both metaphorically and literally theatrical? What components of identity, in terms of race, class, and gender, are privileged or destabilized by the eighteenth-century stage? In what ways do evolutions in dramatic style (particularly the turn-of-the-century shift toward closet drama) reflect a changing concept of the self?

To address these questions, we will read a range of plays that explore the intersections among theater, life, and self-fashioning, and we will situate our discussions in a framework that combines theater history with performance studies. Students will learn about eighteenth-century acting theory, stagecraft, and the economics and politics of theater management. We will explore important historical events, such as the Theater Licensing Act of 1737 and the eighteenth-century phenomenon of the masquerade. But we will also investigate how current theorists are using the terms "theatricality," "performance," and "performativity," and we will consider how terms that have migrated from their literal foundations can be productively brought to bear on them again.


  • Shakespeare, The Tempest (Pelican—may use alternate edition)
  • Behn, Oroonoko (Norton—may use an alternate edition)
  • Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Drama, Concise Edition
  • Contains: Southerne, Oroonoko
  • Wycherley, The Country Wife
  • Behn, The Rover
  • Congreve, The Way of the World
  • Steele, The Conscious Lovers
  • Gay, The Beggar's Opera
  • Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer
  • Sheridan, School for Scandal
  • Cowley, The Belle's Stratagem
  • Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (Broadview—or may access on ECCO)
  • Joanna Baillie, Plays on the Passions (Broadview)
  • Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Broadview)
An * indicates those texts contained in a course reader. The reader is available at the bookstore, and I will also place one copy on reserve at Leavey Library.

Some reading assignments will also require you to use the electronic database Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, or ECCO, which is available through the e-resources link on the USC library portal. To access this collection from off-campus, you must install the VPN-Client software.


Keyword Analysis—Presentation and Write-up (30%):

  • This assignment is modeled after Raymond Williams' book Keywords, his analysis of influential terms in culture and society. More than a dictionary, Williams' text is interested in the evolving or overlapping meanings of his chosen terms. These variations are often what indicate a term's importance—what identify them as "keywords"—and Williams' entries trace these variations to illuminate patterns in thought and culture.
  • I've similarly paired our reading for each week with a specific "keyword" from theater / performance studies. These are terms that have resurfaced in contemporary theory, but that also have a particular bearing on our primary text for the week. Each of you will choose one of these words and write up your own 4-6 page keyword analysis. Rather than giving an abstract, ahistorical definition, your entry should assess the evolving tensions or relationships among the uses of this term—of particular interest to me are relationships between theatrical and theoretical applications of the term and / or between eighteenth-century and contemporary usages.
  • The results of your investigation will be shared collectively through an in-class presentation and in a more formal, written essay. Your write-up is due by 10am on the Monday your word is assigned. To submit the assignment, you will email as an attachment your keyword entry, plus a bibliography of the sources you consulted, to the entire class (that includes me). Your essay then becomes part of our reading assignment for Monday afternoon. In class, the author of the essay will also come prepared to speak for about 15 minutes on the trajectory of the assignment: how he / she decided what sources to consult, what particular challenges this keyword presented, what was left in the entry, what was left out, and why. The presentation will end with two or three discussion questions meant to apply the author's research to our reading for the week. I would also like to encourage a discussion of the author's essay in light of its future applicability to seminar paper topics.
  • We will discuss the assignment further in class, but I would encourage all students to peruse Williams' text as well as the 2005 New Keywords, both of which are on reserve at Leavey Library. Students should also check with me in the weeks prior to their assignment for bibliography suggestions.

Huntington Library Workshop (20%):

  • People come from around the world to work at the Huntington Library, but the attractions and mechanics of a rare book library may be quite unfamiliar to you. Our mandatory session at the library should make this local resource more accessible.
  • The Huntington's collection is especially strong in eighteenth-century drama, and Laura Stalker, Head of Reader Services, has agreed to run a daylong workshop for our class in which we will work with the eighteenth-century editions of our assigned plays. During the session, we will have the chance to trace a single play through multiple editions and adaptations; we will study playbills, contemporary reviews, and manuscript materials related to our texts; we will even view eighteenth-century prints and frontispieces inspired by our plays. Laura will also brief you on the mechanics of the Huntington Library: what it can offer you as a scholar, how you apply for a reader's card, and how you navigate its holdings once you are there. At the end of workshop, you will be asked to write-up a research plan for tracing the publication and performance history of another play on our syllabus.
  • Logistics: We will discuss timing on the first day of class. I would like to try to schedule the workshop for a Friday or Saturday in October, or at the latest early November. The workshop will start at 10am and run until about 4pm, with a break for lunch. For those of you without cars, I am happy to provide transportation to and from campus.

Performance Exercise (10%):

  • Our class will culminate with a performed scene from one of the texts we have read. As a class, you must agree upon a scene (and here's to hoping you are a more compliant group than the Crawfords-Bertrams), cast the actors, decide on whatever props will be necessary, and rehearse to whatever extent you see fit. I'm perfectly willing to be cast, if you need the bodies. I would suggest that you appoint one classmate as the "director" who will act as the liaison among you all; this director should check in with the class about potential scenes periodically throughout the semester. (To aid in this process, and so that I can be privy to your discussions, I have set up a discussion forum on Blackboard. Go to and log in using your USC username and password.) Rehearsals should start no later than November 6th. Be prepared to discuss your choice of scene, your interpretative choices as actors, and how your experience of rehearsal and performance influenced your understanding of the text.

Final Paper (40%):

  • I would suggest, though I do not require, that your final paper incorporate elements from your keyword analysis. The papers are not required to be article length, but my comments will address areas for future expansion. Papers are due by noon on Friday, December 8th. You may submit papers in my mailbox, THH 420. Alternately, you may email me your paper in MS Word as an attachment. If you submit your paper electronically, I will edit it using the comment function on Word and return it to you electronically. 12-15 pages.

Schedule of Assignments:

Aug. 21: Introduction—Keyword: performance
Aug. 28: Shakespeare, The Tempest; Dryden and Davenant, The Tempest*
"Performance," in International Encyclopedia of Communications*
Joseph Roach, "Theatre Studies / Cultural Studies / Performance Studies: The Three Unities"*
Diana Taylor, "Translating Performance"*
Sept. 4: NO CLASS
View Stage Beauty
Sept. 11: Behn, Oroonoko; Southerne, OroonokoKeyword: ritual
Joseph Roach, "Betterton's Funeral"*
Sept. 18: Behn, The Rover, The Lucky Chance* Keyword:mimesis
Katharine Eisaman Maus, "'Playhouse Flesh and Blood': Sexual Ideology and the Restoration Actress"*
Elin Diamond, "Gestus, signature, body in the theater of Aphra Behn," in Unmaking Mimesis*
Sept. 25: Wycherley, The Country Wife; Congreve, The Way of the World
ECCO assignment: Jeremy Collier, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698; 5 edition online). Read the preface. Then use the search function to locate those sections that pertain to Congreve and Wycherley. Try searching by author's name, play title, character names, etc.--
Oct. 2: Cibber, The Careless Husband* (or read on ECCO);
Steele, The Conscious LoversKeyword: character
Joseph Roach, "Nature Still, but Nature Mechanized"*; "Darwin's Passion: The Language of Expression on Nature's Stage"*
Oct. 9: Haywood, FantominaKeyword:masquerade
Joan Riviere "Womanliness as a Masquerade"*
Oct. 16: Gay, The Beggar's OperaKeyword: spectacle
**modern adaptations of Beggar's Opera**
Choose and read one (on reserve at Leavey Library): Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera; Wole Soyinka, Opera Wonyosi; Alan Ayckbourn, A Chorus of Disapproval; Václav Havel, The Beggar's Opera
Oct. 23: Fielding, The Author's Farce* (or on ECCO); Keyword: satire
"A Comparison between the World and the Stage," Tom Jones (Xerox)
Matthew Kinservik, "The Establishment of the Licensing Act"*
EVENT: performance of The Threepenny Opera at Bing Theater, 10/26-29
Oct. 30: Sheridan, The School for ScandalKeyword: sensibility
Diderot, The Paradox of Acting*
EVENT: performance of Mansfield Park at Scene Dock Theatre, 11/2-11/5
EVENT: Huntington Library Workshop, Friday, 11/3, 10am-4pm
Nov. 6: Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer;
Cowley, The Belle's StratagemKeyword:performativity
Judith Butler, "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution"*
Nov. 13: Baillie, Plays on the PassionsKeyword:theatricality
Tracy Davis and Thomas Postlewait, "Theatricality: An Introduction"*
Nov. 20: Elizabeth Inchbald, Lover's Vows,* "Preface" to Lover's Vows (Xerox);
Austen, Mansfield Park, Vol. 1
W.B. Worthen, "Drama, Performativity, and Performance"*
Stephen J. Bottoms, "The Efficacy / Effeminacy Braid: Unpicking the Performance Studies / Theatre Studies Dichotomy"*
Nov. 27: Austen, Mansfield Park complete
Final discussion
**Final seminar paper due on Friday, December 8th, by 12pm.**