English | Modern Drama
L366 | 4385 | Tim Wiles


9:30A-10:20A D (30) 3 CR.

As its full Course Bulletin title suggests, L366 is a survey of
modern drama from the English, Irish, American and Post-Colonial
theaters since the beginning of the last century.  This would be an
impossible amount of English-language drama to cover, so I will
contain our course by reading plays by the male playwrights named in
the Bulletin description (by and large), and add several plays by
women to balance the offering.  However, to keep L366 from being
a “greatest hits” course, I want to establish themes from this drama
that span a century and show common concerns of the art form (drama,
theater) and of the global language (plus globally-influential
source of entertainment media) in question:  English.  Why is it
different to study or to talk about modern drama when it is in
English, than say, modern French drama or German theater, or to cite
two other truly global languages, drama in Spanish, or Chinese
theater today?  The first writer and play on our syllabus, Shaw in
Pygmalion, deals with this issue directly by writing a play about
teaching a lower-class “wench” how to speak proper (British)
English, at the height of British imperialism (we’ll also contrast
the American musical version My Fair Lady, for another layer of
cultural translation).  Then, as we read a core list of great modern
plays, we’ll also be considering their social meaning,  ask about
ways in which “personal” themes are also “political,”  and raise
questions of whether a play has a world-wide dimension or is mainly
just a classic for say, the American theater, or say, Nigeria. As
one course goal, our task will be to do a kind of “cultural
translation” from one country or social world or even language to
another, to consider which plays can be “done” most successfully
across time or over geographical borders (theatrically revived from
one time period to another era, or transported from one culture to
another).  One question the course will explore is whether a
play’s “translatability” helps determine its status as a great play
or a “classic,” not just its intrinsic beauty or its complement
of “eternal truths.”

We will work in a discussion format, and occasionally stage readings
from plays and view video excerpts; we’ll also attend live
performances in town.  Students will write short weekly response
papers on their readings and viewings, and take two objective
tests.  Playwrights include Shaw, Eugene O’Neill & Wole Soyinka
(Irish American and Ibo Nigerian Nobel laureates), J.M. Synge, Y.B.
Yeats & Brian Friel (Irish playwrights, and Friel’s Translations
bridges English and Celtic as well), Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter &
Edward Albee (variations on theater of the absurd), South African
playwright Athol Fugard, and Caryl Churchill, Marsha Norman and
Timberlake Wertenbaker (women writing from England, America, and
Australia).