English | Special Studies in English & American Literature
L780 | TBA | McKay


L780 MCKAY (#2)
Special Studies in English & American Literature
(Comparative Drama)

5:45p – 8:15p T

TOPIC:  TOXIC THEATRE

Devised for students interested in the theory and history of
performance, this course will explore the longstanding tendency to
account for the theatre’s impact in pathological terms. Strictly
speaking, our object will be to consider a number of historical and
critical conditions under which the institution of the stage in
general or a particular play is said to make its audience sick.
Special emphasis will be placed on the early periods (Rome to
Romanticism), guided by our reading of Walter Benjamin’s On the
Origins of the German Tragic Drama. Among the other philosophers,
theorists, and theologians we may consult in this pursuit are Plato,
Aristotle, Tertullian, Augustine, Chrysostom, Athenagoras, Gosson,
Prynne, Collier, Diderot, and Artaud and Brecht; our plays will
include Ibsen’s Ghosts, Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr, the Cornish
Death of Pilate, Baillie’s de Montfort, O’Neill’s Strange Interlude,
Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Ron Athey’s performance art; and
the diseases we will investigate for their discomfiting relation to
the stage are the plague, tuberculosis, syphilis and AIDS. Along the
way, we will pose a range of questions about the hygiene of
theatrical spectatorship, the toxicity of representation and, most
important, the communicability of feeling. These lines of
questioning should lead us to some larger interventions in the
methods and practices of our discipline—for instance, how might
metaphor, or figurative thinking, limit the stakes of theatre and
performance studies? Is there a value to understanding theatre
history as a forensic science? Close reading and rash speculation
will be equally emphasized here; lively participation and a
sustained and thoughtful course of research, leading to a final
seminar paper, are crucial to the successful completion of the
course.