The following excerpts are pulled from the accumulating files students created through their regular reflections on what they'd been learning. Most are from the last two reflections (a few weeks before the end of term, or at the very end).
I think one of the most exciting parts of the learning process in this course has been that, while researching drama of a particular age, I am discovering so much about the history of that era, which was too uni-directional the way it was taught in high school. It's much more interesting to discover the way history affected drama and thereby discover, for example, that the rule of the lascivious "Merry Monarch" produced a lurid court ripe for dramatic ridicule (as well as producing several illegitimate royal children) compared with the more serious rule of William and Mary which also affected what happened – and was allowed to happen – on stage. I learned that with these dual monarchs, power began to switch from king to parliament and the many effects this change had, and I became involved in politics (how the Whigs and Tories affected "Venice Preserv'd") and what the Popish plot was all about. Research for "The Beggar's Opera" led me to the beginnings of opera and I learned how popular ballads were re-written to accommodate the plot they were slipped into. All of that adds up to acquiring a feel for Restoration and 18th century drama: a sense of the language used in the plays, a sense of the types of plays that were written, a much better sense of the conditions from which the playwrights drew their resource material, and a good sense of the theatres themselves, from who sat where, to how a ghost appeared on stage.
Matt and I looked at Love's Last Shift which allowed us the opportunity to show the class what a sentimental comedy was all about. This went along nicely with Collier's Short View on the stage. Collier expressed that Cibber's play was one that all playwrights should emmulate. This is particularly important for the class because we looked at comedy of manners, licentious comedies, tragedies, dramatic comedies, and now sentimental comedies. This report compliments Ryan's on the Rake, where the devious and licentious character is described and outlined. Reports such as these let the student know what the requirements were like and expected for the characters in the play.
As Dryden has been a interest of mine since the start of the class, reading his essay Of Dramatic Poesy to finish off the term seemed like the logical thing to do. It discusses, in somewhat of a play format, the way a play should be written and what is preferred modern or ancient plays, French or English, among various other things. This report went nicely with Tyler's on the feud between Dryden and Rymer. Rymer, who was a critique of the times, also had his view on how a play should be written. The implications of these reports is that people actually cared about what was presented on stage. Just as today we all review and critique movies on the big screen, these plays were actually important to the society. That should be something that the entire class picks up on.
I think my most enlightening piece of research I did was when I did a report on the Restoration theater. I think it was because we were allowed to focus on our interests. Although I'm not much for being involved behind the stage, it was very interesting to find out how playwrights put together special effects for their plays. They had good ideas even in those times. The chapter in one of my research texts dedicated to dying in the theater was very interesting. Stage wounds were imitated by fresh sheep's blood, applied to the face or body by a well soaked sponge tied inside the player's hand or up against the bladder against the actors body, to be broken by the blow of a sword. It's a little scary to know that when duels took place actors were wounded and injured because they actually used real swords, but they were dull, but still sometimes that didn't make any difference. For the most part playwrights depended upon the imagination of the audience to recreate scenes. Actors would talk to the audience, or they could figure it out by listening to the script, or sometimes they would give away the setting of the play right in the title of it, ex. Sedley's "The Mulberry Garden", Wycherley's "Love in a Wood"
One of the main things I have learned thus far in the course is actually not specific to Restoration Drama: that is that everything needs context. When we first began this semester, I was wondering why we were all hung up on the historical aspects of the Restoration period, rather than getting down to business and reading some plays. I guess that's because I'm used to the traditional class where you're told what to read, and where, when and how to do so. I now realize that everything we read needs to be looked at within the broader scope of history or drama itself. One of the major questions this class got me thinking about was the compilation of a "canon". Who decides what's "good" and is worthy of being studied, and what is not? Should it be the scholar who compiles text books, or should those who are actually studying this subject decide what's important and why? I found our investigation of this aspect to be quite enlightening. It really got me questioning authority (in a non rebellious way, of course!).
The computer experience I gained is very important to me. I know Russ had a good laugh at how excited I was to learn how to create links!! But then, each little step is a learning process, and any learning we do is of no small importance - so I will revel in this happy little step!! In all seriousness, however, I found that writing reports and saving them as .htm files, updating learning reflections, creating a cover page for my internal web site -- all these assignments helped me not only to become more computer-literate, which is essential in this age of the world, but also to develop my critical thinking. Sometimes we swell with pride at the thought that "I have a wonderful thought or opinion" -- but we really become aware of how well or badly it stands up, when we watch it type across the screen. This means of work gives us a much better understanding of how our points come across to another person, and helps us learn to express ourselves in a way which is more easily and appreciably comprehended.
Reading other people's summaries and reflections on their plays were helpful because I got to see many different opinions and feelings on the material. I got to see how the person felt about what he/she was reading but also what their feelings were on the class, the period and a multitude of other things. In going back and looking at the history of my play, I could think deeper about what Etherege was all about and think about my reasons for choosing that play once again. Also I could analyse who played what part and hopefully find out how they played their parts which helps me as an actor in learning how others play certain roles. In reading their responses to mine and others questions, I could get an even better and more personal realization of what the play was all about. This helped me in choosing another play . . . .
The most important portion of the course, in my opinion, has been the information gleaned from my classmates. It was much like being in a room with a group of teachers, and not a group of students. The fact that we were always sharing information with our classmates put us all on a common level, regardless of what we knew about the period before hand. We were all involved in teaching each other, and not just learning from one person. When you try to teach someone something you know, not only are you helping them (hopefully), but you're also reviewing the material you know and are thus "learning" it again. As time went on we found ourselves using information given to us in order to do further research. As an example, Ashleigh's interest on the ladies of the time later led Randy to research some of the more famous Actresses. In my own case, I was able to use the information I was presented with on Dryden when I worked on my report on Rymer and Dryden. I was also able to use information from my own earlier work in later things. Again, the report on Rymer and Dryden was fleshed out a bit with information I took from my work on The Double Dealer.