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Canon, Pedagogy, Prospectus: Redesigning "Restoration and Eighteenth-Century English Drama" Richard Bevis Let me begin by stating my assumptions—those, that is, of which I am aware—so that they, as well as the choices based on them, can be debated: 1.Whenever a subject matter is studied, there is a canon. We can investigate how the canon was formed, debate what should be at its center and at its margins, and make changes. While scholars study both center and margins, students in their earlier careers are concerned with the former. 2.In the case of theater, there are two partially overlapping canons: the plays that are read, and the plays that are performed. While this essay deals with the former, it assumes that students of dramatic literature take some interest in the theater, past and present. 3.For all practical purposes, the undergraduate student's reading canon is defined by what is printed in the currently available anthologies .' 4.Pedagogy is an important part of what academic scholars do, and the question of what students are to read requires a critical consideration of what the standard anthologies make available. 5.Anthologies date because taste, values, and scholarship change. To be useful, an anthology should present texts that will interest students , give a fair representation of authors and styles that were important in the period, and reflect the current state of scholarship in its selections and commentary. To the extent that it serves any narrower ideology and moves towards the "thesis anthology," it becomes less useful . My reflections on the Restoration and eighteenth-century English dramatic canon as defined by anthologists are grounded on these assumptions.2 178 Richard Bevis179 I question whether any general, all-purpose anthology still in print is satisfactory. The older collections that once flourished in relative abundance are either out of print, unsuitable at present, or both. These include Everyman's Eighteenth-Century Plays, Modern Library's Twelve Famous Plays, and the Jones-MacMillan Plays of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century,3 the loss of whose interesting choices I particularly regret, but from which we can still learn. Most modern efforts have been too limited in scope to be used alone (as were the Oxford World's Classics volumes ): Riverside's Six Restoration Plays, Norton's Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Comedy, and the Meridian Anthology of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Plays by Women, not to mention the two volumes of Classical Monologues for men and women.4 Virtually the only feasible choice for a master text in an undergraduate course at present is the 1939 Nettleton-Case British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan, updated by G. W. Stone in 1969 and published by Southern Illinois University Press (henceforth NCS).5 This is the current standard, but one on which I think we can improve if we measure what it contains against what an ideal anthology would offer. I 1660-88. Heroic drama, arguably the first important innovation of the Restoration stage, presents the anthologist's first problem . Jones and MacMillan used The Siege of Rhodes, a preRestoration "opera" that, while historically important, is neither representative nor appealing to readers. NCS prints Dryden's The Conquest of Granada (Part I), which seems to me unsatisfactory in several respects. For one thing, it is only half a play; the interesting points that scholars have made about it are based on the full two-part, ten-act version. Print the whole play, then? I think not. The Conquest of Granada is extravagant as well as long: its extremes of character and diction, which helped to bring on the reflux against the heroic style, have caused some scholars to speculate that Dryden must have been parodying it. And (if one proceeds chronologically) The Conquest of Granada makes an off-putting commencement to the course for students, who incline to The Rehearsal's view that Almanzor and the play are absurd if not contemptible. Several other exemplars might fill the niche better. One could make cases for the Dryden-Howard Indian Queen or Dryden's Indian Emperor, but I would argue for his Tyrannick Love (1669), 180Canon, Pedagogy, Prospectus the most nearly adequate of these dramas of ideas, set in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 178-191
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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