English | Introduction to Drama
L203 | 4870 | Shane Vogel

Shane Vogel

2:30p-3:45p TR (25 students) 3 cr., A&H.

This course provides students with an introduction to the central
issues, topics, and contexts for the study of theatre and
performance. This is a course on “theatre thinking”—not so much what
to know about theatre as how to think about it. Our critical
engagement will involve reflective thinking and conclusions reached
carefully and deliberately rather than jumped to. You will sharpen
your critical skills through communicating your own arguments and
opinions in class discussion and written work. You will use plays,
performances, and critical essays to explore and develop your roles
as engaged readers, writers, spectators, and scholars. The course
establishes a foundation of critical, historical, and theoretical
skills and methods that can be further pursued in other dramatic
literature courses. These skills and methodologies will enable you
to engage in a sustained and rigorous examination of dramatic
literature and performance, placing plays in their historical,
cultural, and ideological contexts.

The course is divided into four units. In the first we will take up
the seeming oxymoron “dramatic literature” by considering the
relationship between text and performance. We will closely read
several modern plays and examine the features and characteristics
that shape drama as a form of expression. We will ask how meaning is
produced in performance; trace developments in modern drama through
various aesthetic movements (realism, naturalism, expressionism,
etc.); consider the role of the spectator in performance; and take
up the challenge of writing about live performance. The second unit
is concerned with the problems and methods of theatre history.
Through sustained attention to two plays by Shakespeare, we will ask
how we can better understand the meaning, effects, and reception of
drama in different eras. Dramatic theory is the subject of the third
unit. We will read a variety of plays in relation to two dominant
theoretical traditions (Aristotle’s tragic theatre and Brecht’s epic
theatre). The goal of this section of the course is to explore the
ways in which theory can inform and illuminate dramatic literature
and theatre practice. The final section looks more broadly at the
concept of performance in contexts beyond the bounds of traditional
theatre, including ritual and anthropological performance, play,
social performance, and performance art. In this unit we will
conclude the course by asking why performance is a useful tool with
which to engage cultural, political, and philosophic issues. Writing
assignments are designed to build upon each other and develop
different skills and approaches to writing about drama. There will
be a series of these assignments, a midterm and final exam, and a
lot of class discussion. As a class we will attend at least two (and
probably more) live performances.