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Modern Theatre & the Political Imagination - ENG00094M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Emilie Morin
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: F
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

This module investigates shifting conceptions of political theatre from the 1930s to the present, through a selection of plays that attempt to advance political and historical understanding. The module focuses on published and widely-available scripts that have proved especially provocative and challenging. It enables students to read these plays in dialogue with theoretical texts that shed light on theatre’s capacity for social critique, from the reflections on historical theatre offered by Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator to recent theoretical work on the political subject and the spectacle of suffering.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The idea that dramatic writing has a strong political currency, more so than other art forms, is long established. The twentieth century has given rise to diverse forms of political theatre that entertain a privileged relation with the international left, pacifism, anti-colonial campaigns and liberation movements, and to many powerful plays dealing with civil rights, labour rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, race issues, disability rights, prisoners’ rights, human trafficking and genocide. Yet, as Augusto Boal once pointed out, ‘[t]he argument about the relations between theatre and politics is as old as theatre and… as politics.’ Indeed it remains difficult to identify precisely what a political theatre consists of, not least because the relation between the Western liberal consciousness and the documentation of political history remains difficult to chart.

This module investigates shifting conceptions of political theatre from the 1930s to the present, through a selection of plays that seek to advance political and historical understanding. The module focuses on published and widely-available scripts that have proved especially provocative and challenging. It enables students to read these plays in

dialogue with theoretical texts that shed light on theatre’s capacity for social critique, from the reflections on historical theatre offered by Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator to recent theoretical work on the political subject and the spectacle of suffering. Seminars explore the aspirations that have shaped the global rise of political theatres, from early theatres of protest influenced by international struggles for workers’ rights and social equality to contemporary theatres concerned with the defence of human rights and contemporary modes of warfare. Issues central to the module include the political ambitions of avant-garde theatre; differing conceptions of the political remit of realism; attempts to explore experimental dramatic terrains divorced from figurative representation; the possibilities and politics of narrative-based theatre; the privileged position of legal records, diaries or testimonies as source materials; and contemporary experiments on the monologue as a radical form in its own right.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

•an understanding of the shifts surrounding ideas of political theatre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

• a sophisticated appreciation of the intersections between political history and the history of

playwriting since the 1930s

• an understanding of the international reach of political theatres

• an understanding of the circumstances in which ideas about political writing and its forms have been articulated.

Academic and graduate skills

• a capacity to situate challenging dramatic texts in their historical and political contexts

• a capacity to read and analyse challenging primary materials and theoretical sources closely and critically

• a capacity to articulate orally and in writing cogent and sophisticated critical arguments

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
4500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules

None

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
4500 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

The essay will be returned with annotation and feedback within six weeks. Students are encouraged to use staff Open Office Hours to discuss essay feedback.

Indicative reading

The reading list will change from year to year due to the modern and contemporary focus of the module. The primary materials will include work as a range of contemporary playwrights, and representative texts by, for example, Bertolt Brecht, Erwin Piscator, Caryl Churchill, debbie tucker green, Ariel Dorfman,or Amiri Baraka, and theoretical essays by Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Žižek, Paul Virilio or Judith Butler.



The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.