- Department: English and Related Literature
- Module co-ordinator: Prof. Emilie Morin
- Credit value: 20 credits
- Credit level: H
- Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
Bertolt Brecht once argued that there are two types of plays: at one end of the spectrum, there is the play that accepts the established order of things as given, presents suffering as unavoidable and envisions the world as immutable; at the other, there is the play that envisions the possibility of change, invites the spectator to see the world differently, and triggers a new form of political awareness. In this module, we will take up Brecht’s invitation to reflect on the political power of theatre, and we will investigate theatre’s capacity to offer new ways of understanding history and society. We will analyse a diverse range of modern and contemporary plays (plays from across the twentieth century, plays written since 2000) which render the suffering that they portray as unacceptable, and articulate a belief that the world can be transformed for the better. This journey through the history of playwriting will enable us to reflect on long-established associations between politically-motivated theatre and histories of war, forced displacement, anti-colonial movements, international liberation movements and human rights movements.
There is no fixed, unified way of thinking about political theatre: indeed, the domain of political theatre involves a vast range of forms, interests and activities, tied to different and often incommensurable political moments. There is no set way of writing about political issues either. The module will acknowledge such plurality, and will encompass texts that offer different understandings of how a play can represent human experience and display political perceptiveness. We will discuss a wide range of approaches to playwriting, beginning with early agit-prop theatre promoting pacifism, equal voting rights and workers’ rights. We will analyse texts that tackle complex issues to do with totalitarianism, war, the birth and death of political utopias, the emergence of new understandings of community, and the relation between lived experience, political turmoil and political governance. The corpus studied will primarily consist of published playscripts, and will also include interviews, biographical materials, and critical and theoretical materials dealing with violence, racism, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, suffering and dispossession. The selection of plays will vary from year to year, and will predominantly include works by playwrights whose creative processes, practices and perspectives are well documented – for example, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Caryl Churchill, María Irene Fornés, Lucy Kirkwood, Tony Kushner, Joan Littlewood, Antoinette Nwandu, Suzan-Lori Parks, debbie tucker green and Alexander Zeldin.
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The aims of this module are: to investigate shifting conceptions of political theatre in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries; to discuss modern and contemporary attempts to advance political and historical understanding through playwriting; to analyse a selection of materials that offer different understandings of how a play can represent human experience and display political perceptiveness.
On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:
Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of modern and contemporary plays notable for their political dimensions and motives.
Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with different models of politically-motivated dramatic writing.
Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with twentieth- and twenty-first theatre and with theatre, politics and social change.
Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.
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You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.
Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.
You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines
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You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours.
For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment.
The key texts will be confirmed to students in advance of the module running. The majority of texts will be provided in electronic form. The selection of readings will be shaped by the availability of online editions and translations, and may change from year to year.
Representative texts may include:
Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and her Children
Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine
debbie tucker green, ear for eye
Amir Nizar Zuabi, Oh My Sweet Land