Essay topics (35%)

ENGL 345: Modern Drama (Fall 2014)–due December 1, 2014

Most of these topics involve one work of drama. Where more than one play is being studied, be sure not to write a simple compare-and-contrast essay or, worse, two parallel mini essays; the two plays should complement each other in tackling your thesis. You may, of course, also write an essay on a topic of your own devising; if you do this, you must get my approval on your topic.

1. Zola writes, “All the great stage triumphs are victories over convention.” Discuss this claim in reference to one play and its engagement with specific dramatic conventions.

2. “The dramatist of the future will have more to learn from Maeterlinck than from any other playwright of our time,” writes Arthur Symons. Discuss how one of the plays covered this term engages with Maeterlinck’s notion of “the tragical in daily life.”

3. How does one particular theorist covered in this course illuminate or clarify the concerns of one of the plays we read? (Feel free to deviate from the pairings on the syllabus; that is, even though I put Judith Butler and Caryl Churchill together, you could read Butler alongside Synge, Pirandello, Chekhov, or any other dramatist, and you could write on Churchill alongside Maeterlinck, Nietzsche or any other theorist).

4. Discuss the concern with posterity, the future and/or relations between generations in any ONE of the plays on the syllabus.

5. How does any ONE of the plays on the syllabus tackle the problem of novelty or the New? (This topic may be combined with Topic # 1.)

6. What does any ONE of the plays on the syllabus have to say about gender and gender relations?

7. Most of the plays we read reject the melodrama, yet many of them also use the melodrama’s appeal to make their point. Discuss this paradox (if it is a paradox) in relation to one or two plays on the syllabus.

8. Ibsen wrote that “If the new is to appeal to the people, it must also in a certain sense be old; it must not be invented, but rediscovered.” Writing on any one of the plays covered this term, discuss the role or representation of myth in modern drama.

9. “Dialogue [is] spoken action,” writes Pirandello. What does he mean, and how does this notion inform your interpretation of one the plays on the syllabus?

10. Ubu roi openly borrows its plot from Hamlet and Macbeth, while The Playboy of the Western World bears several similarities to Oepidus Rex. Discuss either or both Ubu roi and Playboy of the Western World as modern drama’s “answer(s)” to tragedy?

11. Discuss Ubu roi as a precursor to Artaud’s theory of the “Theatre of Cruelty.”

12. In Berthold Brecht vision of “epic theatre,” an “actor must always remain a demonstrator; he must present the person demonstrated [i.e. the character] as a stranger, he must not suppress the ‘he did that, he said that’ element in his performance. He must not go so far as to be wholly transformed into the person demonstrated.” Focusing on one or two plays on the syllabus, discuss this theory of acting and its political and/or aesthetic implications.

13. Is Endgame a comedy or a tragedy? Argue your case with specific reference to the play and to theories of drama, and also explain why classifying its genre might matter.

14. Discuss the problem of action and inaction in either Six Characters… or Endgame.

15. Discuss how the “real” identity of the actors becomes part of the drama in Churchill’s Cloud Nine.

16. Discuss mechanisms and the purpose of the experiment with time in Cloud Nine.

17. Jarry writes, “Laughter is born out of the discovery of the contradictory”; Artaud speaks of “humour as destruction”; and Beckett writes that “when you’re in the shit up to your neck, there’s nothing left to do but sing.” Based on one play, discuss the effects of laughter as an element of the play’s serious purpose.

 18. Several of the plays we read have been adapted to film, for example

– Chekhov: Vanya on 42nd Street (1994, dir. Louis Malle & André Gregory);

– Ibsen: A Master Builder (2014, dir. Jonathan Demme);

– Synge: The Playboy of the Western World (1962, dir. Brian Hurst) and Paris or Somewhere (1994, dir. Brad Turner)

– Jarry: Ubu Roi (1965, dir. Jean-Christophe Averty)

– Pirandello: Six Characters in Search of an Author (1976, dir. Stacy Keach)

Write a critical analysis of one of these adaptations (or another not mentioned here)—not a movie review, and not a list of ways in which the film “betrays” the original, but an analytical discussion of how the adaptation interprets the text. For a fuller treatment, you might want to focus on a few representative scenes rather than on many. You must have my approval to do this option.

19. Write an essay building on your work you did for your presentation and/or your dramaturgy exercise. To do this, you must consider and respond to my comments on the earlier assignments, and also book an appointment to discuss your ideas for how to adapt them into the final essay.

20. “The world has become sad because a puppet was once melancholy…. The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.” So writes Oscar Wilde in The Decay of Lying. Discuss ways in which modern theories of theatre reverse, invert, or re-imagine Art’s relationship with mimesis. You may focus exclusively on theoretical texts, but examples from the plays themselves are also welcome.

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