“Fond and Frivolous Gestures”: A Blocking Workshop on Marlowe’s Tamburlaine
Keywords:Marlowe, Tamburlaine, Teaching, Workshop, Theatre culture, Rose theatre
Since 2012, second-year English and Drama undergraduates at the University of Exeter have had the opportunity to take a course called “Theatrical Cultures”. This option introduces students to plays and entertainments that were popular between the 1580s and the 1640s, with a view to opening an understanding of the period that is deeply informed by theatre history. In this essay, we share and reflect on our teaching of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Parts One and Two, which examines the plays as productions by the Lord Admiral’s Men in the Rose playhouse. We start by explaining the learning context for the blocking workshop we use as a practical teaching method. We then share instructions for setting up the workshop and outline our “learning-by-doing” methodology, which involves placing the bodies of our students and the properties necessary to perform a scene within the dimensions of the first Rose stage. The intended learning outcomes of the workshop include a practical understanding of the affordances of the early modern playhouse and the ability to translate this understanding into a critical interpretation of Marlowe’s drama. As students deliver lines, wield swords and crowns, and try to imagine how a chariot navigates the stage space available, they recognise moments of potential bathos and physical comedy in the plays, hinting at those “fond and frivolous gestures” that Marlowe’s publisher, Richard Jones, sought to remove from the 1590 play-text. In the third section of the essay, we evaluate these insights and the workshop’s pedagogical value by sharing reflections by tutors and students who have participated in the blocking workshop.