English 28

Introduction to the Study of Drama

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2014 Lavery, Grace
MWF 2-3 206 Wheeler

Book List

Brook, Peter: The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre; Churchill, Caryl: Plays: 1; Kane, Sarah: Complete Plays; Miller, D. A. : Place for Us: Essay on the Broadway Musical; Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night's Dream


The dramatic arts confound most of the certainties we generally hold about literary writing. Although there are playwrights, each performance is necessarily social and collaborative. Although the printed playscript can last indefinitely on the shelf, plays require the physical presence of living bodies – a presence that may be intimate, distancing, banal, violent, exhausting. And unlike a book, which can be picked up and put down at leisure, the play stipulates the time and place at which it is to be consumed. Yet drama is also distinct from other types of live performance: its medium is literary, and its ritual forms are both long established and surprisingly enduring. Recognizing these particularities as stimuli for critical insight – and for our own forms of play – this course offers students tools for answering some of the most fundamental questions concerning the meaning and purpose of drama. How and why do we identify with characters in plays – and with what effect for drama without characters? How does drama challenge us to think beyond the figure of the author, and to imagine new relationships between text and speech? And perhaps most importantly of all: how can an understanding of the forms of dramatic performance enable us to think in new ways about the performances that govern our everyday lives?

In addition to discussion of some major figures from the canon of dramatic writing in English – Shakespeare, Wilde, Beckett, Sarah Kane, among others – we will read excerpts from some of the major theorists of dramatic performance, from Aristotle through Artaud to D. A. Miller. Writing assignments will be many and short: students will be asked to develop their own repertoire of critical responses to the plurality of works studied, to be submitted as a portfolio at the end of the course.  Navigating a broad array of subject matter over time, space, and genre, our guiding principle will be close textual analysis. We will risk the impossible act of reading a playscript – not as a relic of a lost performance, but as a living invitation to act, a spur to performance. Close reading drama, we may well come to suspect, generates unique insights into the politics, the social vitality, of language itself.

This will be a reading- and discussion-intensive course designed for prospective majors and transfer students looking to study drama and learn how to write about it critically.

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