‘The Best Paper Assignment Ever!’ Teaching Medieval Drama Through Writing
By Christina M. Fitzgerald
This Rough Magic, Vol. 3, No. 2 (2012)
Introduction: In Spring 2010, I had the pleasure of team-teaching a course on medieval drama “then and now,” in its historical contexts and in modern performance. I collaborated with a colleague in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Toledo, Dr. Edmund B. Lingan. That course was associated with a concomitant performance of selections from the Chester Cycle here at the University of Toledo, a portion of which we took to Toronto for the performance of the complete cycle in May, 2010. Though our students were not members of the cast and crew, we still linked the course to the performance through various assignments in which the class members served as assistant dramaturgs for the production.
However, it is not always the case that I am able to work with the resources of the Theatre department or with the expertise of practicing theater professionals such as Dr. Lingan, who is a director as well as a theater historian. Often I am on my own, teaching medieval drama to English majors in an English department, as I suspect many other people who teach medieval drama are. But I still want students to move from the page to the stage, and to think of the cultural contexts of performance in the past and in our present, especially since so much of medieval drama’s richness is only apparent in the fullness of its cultural and historical contexts. Thus I have devised various writing assignments to teach and encourage students to think contextually. This essay discusses the major project I have assigned in my undergraduate medieval drama courses in the department of English at both UCLA (where I earned my Ph.D. and taught as a Lecturer) and the University of Toledo, where I am now an Associate Professor of English. I include a revised version of the assignment guidelines in the appendix to this article. The title of this essay, “The best paper assignment ever!,” is a direct quotation from one of my Toledo students on the day I passed out the instructions that semester. Another student followed it up with a more accurate, if less decorous comment: “Yeah, thanks for not giving us a sucky assignment.” My assignment is probably not the best ever, but I do agree that it does not suck, and that it has been, in fact, an effective and fun assignment, for both my students and me, and thus I share it here, along with an analysis of what I think has made it successful.