Dynamics of Play Reading: Elements, Structure, Paradigms


You may download a copy of the syllabus here:    THDA 29 Syllabus 2010FTHDA 29 Syllabus 2010F

Course description

This course explores various elements of dramatic literature and their implications for audience experiences in performance. Character, language, spectacle, plotting and theme are studied in the light of dynamic play structures. In addition to analytical writing, students undertake experiential projects in realizing the underlying theatrical and narrative paradigms of the plays studied. Exemplary plays are chosen for their contrasting qualities, from antiquity to the present, and are read alongside related theoretical and critical texts. Particular emphasis is placed on exploring the legacy of classical form and later evolutionary and innovative responses to it.


We will read a wide variety of plays in this course and try to get to the heart of how each play “works”.  Our primary goal will be to develop facility in the reading of plays as meaningful theatrical experiences.  You will gain insight into the dynamics of audience perceptions as they unfold in time and space, and the formal means by which playwrights influence those perceptions in order to translate literary themes into theatrical reality.  In terms of dramatic form, our process together will include experiences in integrating parsed elements into a deeper understanding of the whole.  If you enroll in this course, you should be prepared to read all of the required plays and to participate in short-form collaborative projects that will deepen your apprehension of the experiential qualities of plays in performance.


Required reading is listed below, consisting of plays and Aristotle’s Poetics.  In addition, I will require several shorter critical reading selections that I will either hand to you or for which I will direct you to the library.

Sources for additional reading are also listed below.  I will give you a list of recommended videos separately.

Required Reading
(available locally at Amherst Books; many also available at Frost library)

Poetics, by Aristotle, translated by Kenneth McLeish
Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, translation by Fitts & Fitzgerald
Uncle Vanya, by Chekhov, translation by Brian Friel
You Can’t Take It With You, by Kaufman & Hart
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Shakespeare
A Flea In Her Ear, by Georges Feydeau
What The Butler Saw, by Joe Orton
Major Barbara, by G.B. Shaw
The Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht, translation by Mannheim & Willet
Marat/Sade, by Peter Weiss
Exit The King, by Eugene Ionesco, translation by Watson & Marowitz
Six Characters In Search of An Author, by Luigi Pirandello, translation by Eric Bently
A Number, by Caryl Churchill
Not I (from Collected Shorter Plays), by Samuel Beckett
4.48 Psychosis, by Sarah Kane

Additional Resources
(from Frost Library or from me)

Theatre/Theory/Theatre, edited by Daniel Gerould (selections) - also available at Amherst Books
An Anatomy of Drama, by Martin Eslin (entire)
Backwards & Forwards: a technical manual for reading plays, by David Ball (entire)
Evoking (and forgetting) Shakespeare, by Peter Brook (entire)

I will hand to you separately a list of related video available in Frost library and/or by live streaming.

Assignments overview
  • Reading, as listed on the course schedule below, and additional hand-outs & reserve reading as assigned
  • Three essays, due on Oct. 5, Nov. 4, and Dec. 2, respectively
  • Five experiential projects, to be presented in class during Weeks 3, 5, 9, 12 & 14 (see below)
Experiential projects

The experiential projects should be prepared outside of class.  In some cases, we will also work on projects in class.  I will ask you to do most of these projects in pairs on in groups.  It is essential that you communicate with one another effectively to set aside time to meet and work together outside of class.

Writing process and extensions policy

I am happy to read rough drafts and to meet with you individually as you work through the writing process.  In addition, you may revise and re-submit any papers after the due date within one week of receiving my comments, and I will give you a higher grade if your revision warrants one.

If you need an extension on written work, please ask in advance.  I never grant extensions that are requested on or after a due date.


Your course grade will be based on the following:

  • Class participation & preparedness - 15%
  • Essays (3) - 45%
  • Experiential Projects (5) - 40%
Course Schedule

(subject to change)

Week 1
Tue. Sep. 7      Introduction
Thu. Sep. 9     Aristotle’s Poetics (Aristotle)
Week 2
Tue. Sep. 14    Oedipus Rex (Sophocles)
Thu. Sep. 16    Uncle Vanya (Chekhov)
Week 3
Tue. Sep. 21     Project #1 Presentations
Thu. Sep. 23    You Can’t Take It With You (Kaufman & Hart)
Week 4
Tue. Sep. 28    A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)
Thu. Sep. 30    Discussion / Work on Project #2
Week 5
Tue. Oct. 5       Work on Project #2                 Draft of first paper due
Thu. Oct. 7       Project #2 Presentations        


Week 6
Thu. Oct. 14    A Flea In Her Ear (Feydeau) & What The Butler Saw (Orton)      First paper due
Week 7
Tue. Oct. 19    Major Barbara (Shaw)
Thu. Oct. 21    The Threepenny Opera (Brecht/Weil)
Week 8
Tue. Oct. 26    Marat/Sade (Weiss)            
Thu. Oct. 28    Work on Project #3
Week 9
Tue. Nov. 2      Work on Project #3
Thu. Nov. 4      Project #3 Presentations / Second paper due
Week 10
Tue. Nov. 9    Exit The King (Ionesco)
Thu. Nov. 11  Exit The King (further discussion); attend Exit The King this weekend
Week 11
Tue. Nov. 16    Six Characters In Search of An Author (Pirandello)
Thu. Nov. 18    A Number (Churchill)


Week 12
Tue. Nov. 29    Work on Project #4                    
Thu. Dec. 2       Project #4 Presentations / Third paper due
Week 13
Tue. Dec. 7    Not I (Beckett) & 4.48 Psychosis (Kane)    
Thu. Dec. 9    Work on Project #5                    
Week 14
Tue. Dec. 14   Project #5 presentations

There is no examination during the Examination Period.  

The absolute deadline for any outstanding writing is 5 p.m. on December 20.

Statement of Intellectual Responsibility and Implications

Please review Amherst's Statement of Intellectual Responsibility.

Some implications of the Statement of Intellectual Responsibility for THDA 29 are listed below.

  • Assigned group work outside of class is cooperative by design: it is your intellectual responsibility to yourself and to your peers to schedule and attend any meetings outside of class needed to complete group work in good faith, and to communicate conflicts openly and promptly.  In addition, since learning in this course is cooperative and experiential, it is your responsibility to attend all class meetings.
  • Writing that you submit to me must be your own.