ELCS6047 - Masters and Servants
Value: 0.5 course units
Tutor: Dr Isabelle Moreau
Teaching structure: The module will include seminars and extensive small group discussion work.
Assessment: 3 hour desk examination
‘There must always be a master and servants in all civilised communities, my lady, for it is natural, and whatever is natural is right.’ – James Barrie, The Admirable Crichton.
In this comparative course, we will trace the fortunes of valet and maid as dramatic figures, analysing their function within the plays and noting mutations in their characteristics, from Commedia dell’arte to the contemporary plays of Beckett, Bertold Brecht and Jean Genet. In comedy, servants play a significant role, either mimicking or contrasting their masters’ desires, wishes, attitudes and roles. The motif of reversal of roles, above all, belongs to the comic sphere, whereby the servant becomes more than he seems and the master less. The master-servant relationship is an asymmetric double sovereignty. As meneur de jeu, the servant is the master, wiser and cleverer than his employer. At the same time, he would lose his raison d’être if he were not seen in relationship to his master and mistress. The servants owe their existence to their connection with other figures, in support or in opposition.We will focus on the interplay of inequality of rank, wealth, skills and fortune. The master-servant relationship raises questions about gender and stirs up powerful passions. It questions power and social classes, by revealing the ‘underside’ of the structure of work and property. The selected plays, striking a balance between the farcical and the deeply serious, are also very funny. How did comical plays, that lightest of literary forms, open dizzying perspectives onto a world beset by the anxieties of political and social upheaval? What was so troubling about this genre that Louis XVI banned The Marriage of Figaro, observing that ‘the Bastille would have to be pulled down before such a play could be staged’?
- Goldoni, Il Servitore di due Padroni (1746), tr. A Servant to two Masters. Methuen Drama, 1999.
- Marivaux, La double inconstance (any edition), tr. The Double Inconstancy. Plays, Methuen’s World Dramatists, 1988.
- Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro (any edition), tr. The Marriage of Figaro in The Figaro Trilogy. Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Bertold Bretch, Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (Berlin: 1951), tr. Mr Puntila and His Man Matti. Methuen Drama Modern Plays, 2007.
- Jean Genet, Les Bonnes (Folio); tr. The Maids in The Maids and Deathwatch: Two Plays. Grove Press, 1962.
- Samuel Beckett, En attendant Godot (Les Éditions de Minuit), tr. Waiting for Godot (any edition).
Initial Secondary Bibliography:
- Brook, Peter, The Empty Space. A Touchstone book, 1968.
- Esslin, Martin, The Theatre of the Absurd. Penguin, 1991.
- Gooden, Angelica, Actio and Persuasion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
- Henke, Robert, Performance and Literature in the Commedia dell'Arte. CUP, 2002.
- Howarth, William D., Beaumarchais and the Theatre. Routledge: 1995.
- Nelson, T. G. A., Comedy: an Introduction to Comedy in Literature, Drama and Cinema. Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
- Weitz, Eric, The Cambridge Introduction to Comedy. CUP: 2009.