E 369 • Twentieth-Century Drama
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
We come to tragedy by many roads. It is an immediate experience, a body of literature, a conflict of theory, and academic problem....In an ordinary life, spanning the middle years of the twentieth century, I have known what I believe to be tragedy, in several forms. It has not been the death of princes; it has been at once more personal and more general. I have been driven to understand this experience, and I have drawn back, baffled, at the distance between my own sense of tragedy and the conventions of the time. --(Raymond Williams, Modern Tragedy)
The aim of this course will be two-fold: to give an acceptable overview of the rich textuality and performance potential of modern European Drama and to situate its production within the context of the politics and aesthetics of modern European literature more generally.
The course will focus on the work of six playwrights: Ibsen, Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett, and Pinter. Each of these major playwrights will be paired with another playwright whose work either continues or disrupts his imperatives. We will begin by looking at the great theatrical explosion of the turn of the century in Ibsen and Chekhov, who will be read, along with Yeats and Shaw, in the context of fin-de-siècle aesthetics and politics. We will then trace the development in the 1920s and 1930s of absurdist theatre in the plays of Pirandello, who will be paired with Ionesco, and of "epic" and political theatre in Brecht, who will be read together with Bulgakov. A selection of Beckett's plays will be read in the contexts of the two World Wars and the deconstruction of a confident European political or artistic order. The foil to Beckett will be Sartre's work of the 1940s. A final gesture towards the present will be made by looking at Pinter's plays and at an opinionated selection of the recent radical political tragedy that resists his attempts at abstraction.
Attendance of all class meetings and a brief oral report 15%
Two short essays (5 pages) 25%+25%
One eight-page essay 35%