Syllabus

Description

  • What is the interplay between an event and its "frames"? What is special and distinctive about stage events?

  • How and why do contemporary dramatists turn back in time for their settings, models, and materials?

  • How do they play with this material to create performance pieces of importance and delight for modern audiences?

  • How do they create distinct, fresh perspectives using the stage in an era of mass and multi-media?

  • What is the implied audience for these plays, and how does that clash or coincide with actual audience expectations and responses?

  • What information do we "need to know," and what do we need to know that is not information?

  • If words circulate, can meaning be stable?

  • What is the relationship between pleasure and responsibility?

  • What are the politics of stagecraft in our time?

  • Is the theater really dead?

  • What '60s pop song includes the previous question?

Focusing on two of Britain's most respected and prolific contemporary dramatists, Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard, we will explore these and other questions involving literary history, interpretation, and performance. As well as carefully reading and discussing selected plays, the class will create (collectively) an archive of material to enrich our understanding of the texts and their contexts-a sort of "Notes Toward a Supreme OCW Site." (The last phrase is an example of citation à la Stoppard; it may be just frivolous-or maybe not.)

Some of us will report on earlier plays that influenced these writers, others will research everything from seventeenth-century religious cults to the poetry of Lord Byron, from landscape gardening to the Romanian government. We will learn about the history and politics informing these postmodern plays, and consider different critical approaches to them. In the process, we will analyze various relationships between drama and the wider culture: both the culture it represents, and that which it addresses in performance. We will also explore the wit and verbal energy of these contemporary writers-not to mention, how Fermat's theorem, futures trading, and chaos theory become the stuff of stage comedy.

Requirements

This seminar will rely on lively interchange; therefore attendance and full participation are required. This means having read the plays and critical selections carefully and on time, having some specific responses to them that you can share, and being sufficiently alert to join in an animated conversation. I shall ask you to give brief reports (10-15 minutes) on literary and critical texts and on events and historical phenomena, focused on their applicability to the play we are studying. After I lead the discussion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I shall ask you to help lead the discussion of one of the remaining plays. This will include preparing a list of focused, provocative questions to start us off; these can be handed out to each member of the class or (preferably) emailed to all at least a day in advance of class.

A variety of written assignments will allow you to respond to our topic in different ways. Three short (2-3 pp.) response essays allow you to focus on a specific aspect of the work under discussion in a thoughtful way. Because they are designed to prompt substantial conversation in class, their effectiveness diminishes if they are not ready before we talk. Therefore, except in very special circumstances (arranged with me), response papers will not be accepted after the assigned date. A 5-page essay will provide an opportunity for you to focus in greater depth upon a single topic in a single play. A long paper (15 pages or more) will allow you to reflect upon a topic of particular interest to you during the semester. All written work should be typed and double-spaced, with standard margins.

I will consider each of the requirements in determining your grade. If you cannot be in class or meet a deadline because of an emergency, please speak with me (in advance, if possible); otherwise, absences and late papers will adversely affect your grade.

Approximate Weighting

ACTIVITIES PERCENTAGES
Class Participation 25%
Reports and Class Leadership 25%
Three Response Papers 15%
Five-page Essay 10%
Long Paper (15 Pages) 25%


I reserve the right to alter the weighting somewhat in exceptional circumstances; usually this works to your advantage. If written work is incomplete or attendance is infrequent, you will not pass the course.

Plagiarism-use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement-is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center.

In addition to welcoming your participation in class, I encourage you to discuss your ideas and your writing with me during office hours, or at other times convenient for us both. I also encourage you to share thoughts with the group via email.