English R1B

Reading and Composition: The Power of Theater: Tracking the Social Role of Dramatic Texts

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2007 Matthew Sergi
TTh 12:30-2 20 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

"Rules for Writers, 5 th Ed. (Diana Hacker)

Prometheus Bound (Aeschylus)

Hamlet (William Shakespeare)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Tom Stoppard)

Corpus Christi (Terence McNally)

A course reader

Film screenings:

Waiting for Guffman

The Passion of the Christ"


"How powerful is theater�and in what way is it powerful? Does it have a point, a purpose? Should it? What role does it play in the culture that produces it? What role does it play in the culture that it produces? And how has this role changed over time? Does theater with a social agenda necessarily fail because it preaches to the converted? Or does it succeed for exactly that reason?

This R1B course is built to refine your expository and argumentative writing, and to develop your research skills: the social role of dramatic texts will act as a central discussion point for student discussion, argument, and inquiry. Your first two assignments will be an ungraded diagnostic exercise and a 4-5 page essay, using materials provided by the instructor. Subsequent assignments, while the length requirements won�t change much, will give you more and more responsibility for your own research: a group research project, a solo research essay, and an analysis/critique of one live theatrical production of your choice. Assignments will go through a drafting and rewriting process, in peer workshops and one-on-one meetings with the instructor, which will support and guide you as a writer and researcher.

Course reading in this R1B is organized around four storylines: the myth of Prometheus, the tragedy of Hamlet, and the Bible chapters on Isaac�s sacrifice and Jesus� crucifixion. We�ll track various retellings of these in dramatic adaptation and re-adaptation, examining multiple formats (most of them relatively quick reads, plus two required film screenings). Each has its own sense of social purpose (or resistance to social purpose): Athenian tragedy, closet drama, activist theater, existential farce, avant-garde drama, Broadway comedy, Hollywood spectacle, operatic score, medieval civic pageant, and a particularly bad case of community theater in Blaine, Missouri (courtesy of Christopher Guest). We will encounter plays-within-plays four times; we will encounter Mel Gibson at least twice. "

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