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Department of English Language and Literature pres.

Sheila Coursey Lecture (Virtual)

“Character by aid of primary color”: Nice Wanton and Pedagogical Anthology

Sheila Coursey, the English Department's Frederick Donald Sober Postdoctoral Fellow, will give a public lecture through Blue Jeans. Please use this link to attend: (Participant Passcode: 6533)

Abstract: Nice Wanton is a Tudor moral interlude that would put even the most lurid public service announcement to shame: truant schoolchildren are destined for lives of crime and misery, sexually transmitted diseases are fatal markers of moral failing, and a great deal is blamed on lax parenting. The interlude's pedagogical message is recursive and explicit; the Prologue offers the play as a dramatization of the axiom “spare the rod, spoil the child,” a message repeated by several of the virtuous characters within the play. However, given the uncertain multiplicities of the play’s history, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly where, by whom, and for whom the zealous moralizing of Nice Wanton was performed. Instead, this paper focuses on Nice Wanton’s surprisingly robust afterlife in performance anthologies or series. Given time constraints, I am going to focus on the 1911 New Theatre production, which offered Nice Wanton as one performance in a multi-part series that introduced American audiences to the history of early English drama. This series also included the Chester play “Noah’s Flood,” and excerpts from The Winter’s Tale, The School for Scandal, and The Thunderbolt. In this paper, I attempt to trace the history of this performance of Nice Wanton and explore why this interlude resonated with an excerpted theatrical series with an eye towards audience pedagogy. More specifically, I argue that the central time-lapse structure of Nice Wanton, especially when put in dialogue with other excerpted plays, puts pressure on the work of excerpting, and ellipses as meaning-making. Ironically, the features of Nice Wanton that make it particularly attractive in performance anthologies or series— it’s length, it’s boisterous pedagogical simplicity—also create the conditions to make visible the narrative instability of the interlude.

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