Teaching Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay in a Second-Year History of Early Drama Course


Para1In the last ten years I have published three articles that have attempted to encourage instructors who teach drama as literature to include performance as a creative collaborative group effort at understanding a play through close engagement with research and rehearsal of a scene. I’ve been privileged to see a number of extraordinary student performances that more than met my expectations and thoroughly impressed their classmates, guests, and teaching assistants. Although my course is cross-listed with Theatre and Film students, the balance is usually 60–90 English students to 6–10 Theatre students. Most students have never seen a play in a theatre (although that is a bonus activity which some students take advantage of in the course), or performed as amateurs or in high-school productions. Most start from a position of ignorance, and learn intensively how to prepare a scene and how to become a receptive audience.
Para2What I discuss and illustrate in this report is the theory and practice of teaching with performance, and its results in the particular illustration of Greene’s play. I include student peer-reviews of the performance itself; two student essays from a group of five, articulating what they learned from the research, rehearsal, and performance; the marker’s comments on the essays; and my additional comments on other student choices for this play. Since 2007, students have had the advantage of seeing this and other Queen’s Men performances and interviews with actors on Performing the Queen’s Men.

Previously Published work on Performance Pedagogy

Ostovich, Helen. Staging the Jew: Playing with the text of The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare’s Comedies of Love: Essays in Honour of Alexander Leggatt. Ed. Karen Bamford and Richard Knowles. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. 262–272. WSB bbw1940.
Ostovich, Helen. Early Modern Theatre History. Teaching the New English Literature: Shakespeare and Early Modern Dramatists. Ed. Andrew Hiscock and Lisa Hopkins. Houndmills, Basingstoke, and Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Ostovich, Helen. Our sport shall be to take what they mistake: Classroom performance and learning. Ed. Karen Bamford and Alexander Leggatt. Approaches to Teaching English Renaissance Drama. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2002. 87–94.

Syllabus and Pedagogy

Para3The syllabus for English 2B06/Theatre & Film 2BB6 is an intensive two-term survey (25 weeks) that includes medieval, early Tudor, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Caroline, and Restoration plays, changing on a weekly basis. Performance conditions and playing spaces form part of the theatre history of the course. The organization of reading and learning includes two hours of lectures and one hour of tutorial a week. The concept I’m working from is that students learn when they have to rely on their own wits and resources, trust their peers, and engage both theoretically and practically, individually and collaboratively, with course materials to produce original work.
Para4The course is designed to have a creative flow energized by student-peer-professor interactions. Imagination and experience with a quantity of texts season that creativity and develop close reading skills that foster good judgment. Interactions move from large lectures (60–120 students), to tutorials (10–18 students), to performance groups (4–5 students), incorporating a range that moves back and forth from individual thinking and writing to collaborative thinking and revising that includes changes to the script itself.

The Lectures

Para5Ideally, students come to the lecture having read the play(s) of the week. The lectures explain the play-spaces of the period, the audiences, the social, religious, and political history, and the pertinence to the play(s) in question. If the play introduces a new idea, or an outrageous character (e.g. Herod) or event (Slaughter of the Innocents), then the lecture speaks to staging problems and traditions, and the way meaning and affect erupt out of performance choices. Often lectures are accompanied by film clips from performances.

The Short Paper

Para6Some of the students will have written a short two-page paper that synthesizes an idea they see working in one scene with a focus on one character, or one speech, or one prop. The argument or thesis should focus on one primary scene, but demonstrate awareness of the place of the scene in the flow of the whole play. It may happen that the student’s idea of the scene will differ substantially from what I say in the lecture. That is good: it leads to productive discussion based on student investment in the play. The student may lack historical background, thus accounting for the difference of opinion, or may have hit upon a genuinely new or unusual point of view that contributes to a valuable interpretation of the script. Students may want to discuss conflicting meanings in the lecture periods, or bring the problem to their tutorial, where several students will have written on the same play and will have thought about how to interpret the script. They write three short papers a term, or about one a month. No late papers are accepted, because the papers have to be marked for and discussed in tutorial.

The Tutorial

Para7The tutorial group meets every other week, and writes on the play that occurs in that tutorial week. The alternate weeks without tutorial are intended for group work. In the tutorial of roughly 15 or 16 students, five to eight of them will have written a paper. The TA will have marked those papers. Before returning them, the TA tells the group what topics were addressed in papers (we post general topics on the class website for short papers), and asks which topic they want to discuss first. The students who wrote on that topic present their interpretations briefly, not reading but actually presenting ideas and demonstrating close readings, perhaps commenting on difficulties or on the difference of opinion given in the lectures. Students who wrote on the same topic respond to one another, and then everyone joins in. After some productive talking, the TA moves them on to the next topic. In my experience, these discussions tend to run themselves after a few weeks, with the TA only guiding the process, but never speaking at length. The good thing about these sessions is that students hear the difference between a well-thought-out paper and a half-baked one. They comment on how to fix up a weak paper, adding more evidence or developing the concept or relating it to another scene in the play. Such discussion has three great impacts: students get to know and respect one another, thus giving them confidence in expressing and evaluating ideas; students write stronger papers next time, anticipating critiques from their peers; and students in the performance groups for that tutorial reinforce their shared interests both in tutorial and in the smaller group, where discussion of differences in interpretation is absolutely vital. These impacts are both theoretical (shaping arguments to develop an idea) and practical (considering how staging can alter meaning).

The Performance Group

Para8Within each tutorial group, three or four performance groups (four or five students each) will form. These groups have a very particular agenda to follow: selection of a play and a performable scene; research on the play; application of research to the scene; reading and discussing the whole play aloud as a group; rehearsals and experimentation; decisions on costumes, props and set (minimal but significant in representing the group’s ideas); checking for clarity of voice and movement; performance before the classroom audience; finalizing the individual essays about what they learned about the play and performance from the experience. The process takes about six weeks to complete. It is the year’s major assignment, worth 30% of the final mark. Each performance takes place in the classroom, in front of classmates and instructors (and sometimes guests of students, or students from the previous year). They complete a survey on each performance, evaluating what they saw and its impact on the meaning of the scene and the whole play. The TAs sum up the peer-reviews and send them to the actors, who should respond to serious critiques in the final essay, due shortly thereafter.
Para9This process involves instructors and students in a lot of detail-oriented work, but for most of us it is also genuinely rewarding, exciting, and refreshing. I use a similar process in my Shakespeare course, and have used it also in smaller seminar courses. It is, I think, ideal for large classes, because it insists on the value of independent and small-group learning that combines theory and practice. It develops confidence in students and greater persuasiveness in argument, based on clarity of the idea supported by detail from the text.


Helen Ostovich

Helen Ostovich, professor emerita of English at McMaster University, is the founder and general editor of Queen’s Men Editions. She is a general editor of The Revels Plays (Manchester University Press); Series Editor of Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama (Ashgate, now Routledge), and series co-editor of Late Tudor and Stuart Drama (MIP); play-editor of several works by Ben Jonson, in Four Comedies: Ben Jonson (1997); Every Man Out of his Humour (Revels 2001); and The Magnetic Lady (Cambridge 2012). She has also edited the Norton Shakespeare 3 The Merry Wives of Windsor Q1602 and F1623 (2015); The Late Lancashire Witches and A Jovial Crew for Richard Brome Online, revised for a 4-volume set from OUP 2021; The Ball, for the Oxford Complete Works of James Shirley (2021); The Merry Wives of Windsor for Internet Shakespeare Editions, and The Dutch Courtesan (with Erin Julian) for the Complete Works of John Marston, OUP 2022. She has published many articles and book chapters on Jonson, Shakespeare, and others, and several book collections, most recently Magical Transformations of the Early Modern English Stage with Lisa Hopkins (2014), and the equivalent to book website, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context containing scripts, glossary, almost fifty conference papers edited and updated to essays; video; link to Queenʼs Mens Ediitons and YouTube: http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/index.htm, 2015. Recently, she was guest editor of Strangers and Aliens in London ca 1605, Special Issue on Marston, Early Theatre 23.1 (June 2020). She can be contacted at ostovich@mcmaster.ca.

Janelle Jenstad

Janelle Jenstad is a Professor of English at the University of Victoria, Director of The Map of Early Modern London, and Director of Linked Early Modern Drama Online. With Jennifer Roberts-Smith and Mark Kaethler, she co-edited Shakespeare’s Language in Digital Media: Old Words, New Tools (Routledge). She has edited John Stow’s A Survey of London (1598 text) for MoEML and is currently editing The Merchant of Venice (with Stephen Wittek) and Heywood’s 2 If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody for DRE. Her articles have appeared in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Elizabethan Theatre, Early Modern Literary Studies, Shakespeare Bulletin, Renaissance and Reformation, and The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. She contributed chapters to Approaches to Teaching Othello (MLA); Teaching Early Modern Literature from the Archives (MLA); Institutional Culture in Early Modern England (Brill); Shakespeare, Language, and the Stage (Arden); Performing Maternity in Early Modern England (Ashgate); New Directions in the Geohumanities (Routledge); Early Modern Studies and the Digital Turn (Iter); Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers (Indiana); Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (Minnesota); Rethinking Shakespeare Source Study: Audiences, Authors, and Digital Technologies (Routledge); and Civic Performance: Pageantry and Entertainments in Early Modern London (Routledge). For more details, see janellejenstad.com.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is LEMDO’s Consulting Programmer and Designer, a role he assumed in 2020 after three years as the Lead Developer on LEMDO.

Kate LeBere

Project Manager, 2020–2021. Assistant Project Manager, 2019–2020. Textual Remediator and Encoder, 2019–2021. Kate LeBere completed her BA (Hons.) in History and English at the University of Victoria in 2020. During her degree she published papers in The Corvette (2018), The Albatross (2019), and PLVS VLTRA (2020) and presented at the English Undergraduate Conference (2019), Qualicum History Conference (2020), and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute’s Project Management in the Humanities Conference (2021). While her primary research focus was sixteenth and seventeenth century England, she completed her honours thesis on Soviet ballet during the Russian Cultural Revolution. She is currently a student at the University of British Columbia’s iSchool, working on her masters in library and information science.

Martin Holmes

Martin Holmes has worked as a developer in the UVicʼs Humanities Computing and Media Centre for over two decades, and has been involved with dozens of Digital Humanities projects. He has served on the TEI Technical Council and as Managing Editor of the Journal of the TEI. He took over from Joey Takeda as lead developer on LEMDO in 2020. He is a collaborator on the SSHRC Partnership Grant led by Janelle Jenstad.

Navarra Houldin

Project manager 2022-present. Textual remediator 2021-present. Navarra Houldin (they/them) completed their BA in History and Spanish at the University of Victoria in 2022. During their degree, they worked as a teaching assistant with the University of Victoriaʼs Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies. Their primary research was on gender and sexuality in early modern Europe and Latin America.

Peter Cockett

Peter Cockett is an associate professor in the Theatre and Film Studies at McMaster University. He is the general editor (performance), and technical co-ordinating editor of Queen’s Men Editions. He was the stage director for the Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men project (SQM), directing King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V, and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (2006) and he is the performance editor for our editions of those plays. The process behind those productions is documented in depth on his website Performing the Queen’s Men. Also featured on this site are his PAR productions of Clyomon and Clamydes (2009) and Three Ladies of London (2014). For the PLS, the University of Toronto’s Medieval and Renaissance Players, he has directed the Digby Mary Magdalene (2003) and the double bill of George Peele’s The Old Wives Tale and the Chester Antichrist (2004). He also directed An Experiment in Elizabethan Comedy (2005) for the SQM project and Inside Out: The Persistence of Allegory (2008) in collaboration with Alan Dessen. Peter is a professional actor and director with numerous stage and screen credits. He can be contacted at cockett@mcmaster.ca.


Ostovich, Helen. Early Modern Theatre History. Teaching the New English Literature: Shakespeare and Early Modern Dramatists. Ed. Andrew Hiscock and Lisa Hopkins. Houndmills, Basingstoke, and Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Ostovich, Helen. Our sport shall be to take what they mistake: Classroom performance and learning. Ed. Karen Bamford and Alexander Leggatt. Approaches to Teaching English Renaissance Drama. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2002. 87–94.
Ostovich, Helen. Staging the Jew: Playing with the text of The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare’s Comedies of Love: Essays in Honour of Alexander Leggatt. Ed. Karen Bamford and Richard Knowles. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. 262–272. WSB bbw1940.



The LEMDO Team is based at the University of Victoria and normally comprises the project director, the lead developer, project manager, junior developers(s), remediators, encoders, and remediating editors.

QME Editorial Board (QMEB1)

The QME Editorial Board consists of Helen Ostovich, General Editor; Peter Cockett, General Editor (Performance); and Andrew Griffin, General Editor (Text), with the support of an Advisory Board.