LIT3061 : Sex and Decadence in Restoration Theatre

Convener(s): Dr Marcus Nevitt


General Information

The period between the Restoration of Charles II and the death of Queen Anne, witnessed an astonishing development of theatrical practice and culture; the professional Restoration stage, unlike its Renaissance predecessor, used actresses rather than cross-dressed boys to play female parts and the introduction of moveable scenery to these theatres brought with it different styles of acting, plotting and realism. On this module, we will consider how this new kind of theatre enabled the emergence of two key Restoration theatrical types, the rake and the courtesan. We will analyse what these new roles might tell us about changing attitudes towards sex - as leisure activity, moral behaviour, easy (or hard) work - in the later seventeenth century. A key question we'll be considering, too, is the degree to which the theatricalisation of sex (or sex talk) might be thought to be political in a period still haunted by the Puritanism of the civil-war and Cromwellian interregnum. Was Restoration drama, sexually adventurous at every turn, as decadent and morally bankrupt as many outraged contemporaries thought? Was it really as politically and socially conservative as some modern-day commentators suggest? Or was the Restoration propensity to talk sex on stage emblematic of the most revolutionary of cultural shifts, heralding the advent of core Enlightenment values such as equality, privacy and individual freedom? Did Restoration theatre, in other words, help to make sex modern?

In order to answer such questions we will scrutinise the relationships between sex, ethics and politics in drama by a wide range of playwrights (including Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish, William Congreve, John Dryden, George Etherege, George Farquhar, Nathaniel Lee, Thomas Otway, Thomas Shadwell and Nahum Tate).


2 x 50-minute seminars per week


Either a) 1 x 1500-word essay and 1 x 2500-word essay or b) 1 x 4000-word essay

Contact Details

0114 222 8487

Information last changed: Tuesday 21st of March 2017 :: 09:34:02 AM (GMT)

Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course convener.


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK