What constitutes the experience of being American, or of America itself? America has been referred to as simultaneously a colony and a colonizer; the first democracy thus representing one of the first populist and anti-colonialist revolutions (1776), but also the most destructive Empire in modern history (Spanos); not only a utopia envisaged as ‘a city upon a hill’ (John Winthrop) arising from the Puritan’s ‘errand in wilderness’ of the Americas, but also a ‘utopia achieved’ ambivalently designated thus by Baudrillard (1988) to emphasize the paradoxes embodied by America as a new world order. Henry Luce, in 1941, called the 20th century the “American Century,” urging the United States to relinquish her isolationism for a missionary's role, acting as the world's Good Samaritan. Countering Luce’s imperialist idea, Henry Wallace called the American 20th century “the century of common man”. Such conflictual moves, however, paved the way for the emergence of such problematic ideas as “American Imperialism” and “American Exceptionalism”. However, the pivotal idea mobilizing all these diverse policies and narratives about what America essentially is or should be is the “American Dream”. This module takes the idea of "American Dream" as its focal point by exploring its social, cultural, psychological and existential manifestations and interpretations in dramatic-theatrical works written from 1950 to present.
Aims and Objectives
Transferable and Generic Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- Research a topic or issue independently
- Write in a range of registers appropriate for different purposes and readerships
- Construct a reasoned, well written argument based on research and analysis of text
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- Evaluate how visual and aural components of performance combine to speak to their audiences and create emotional and cognitive impact
- Analyse plays for their visual, aural, performative and literary elements
- Evaluate the relationship between playwrights and a number of theatre companies and directors
- Analyse the generic and formal strategies used by modern American playwrights
- Evaluate the efficacy of key theories and critical methods pertinent to analysis of dramatic texts
- Present arguments about dramatic literature that place it in a broad historical, cultural and theoretical context.
- Conduct independent research using tools and resources available via the library and the internet
Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:
- scholarship that draws on a variety of critical approaches to explore the crucial issues informing American drama of this period
- a play-text as a blueprint for performance, a starting point for directors, actors, and designers
- the concept of drama as a composite and collaborative art form; a sense of a play-text as a blueprint for performance, a starting point for directors, actors, and designers
This module takes of the idea of American Dream as its focal point by pursuing its social, cultural, psychological and existential manifestations and interpretations in dramatic-theatrical works written from 1950 to present. We will see how American Dream is perceived in various ways: as an ideology, grand-narrative, personal fantasy, national motto, We will also consider how the dream of one nation (America), class, gender or race can be the traumatic nightmare of another. This module will explore these questions by examining the aesthetic, social, and political ideas of modern and contemporary American dramatists. This module will introduce you to the subgenres, strands, and trends of modern American drama, encouraging you to see the plays we study as both literary and cultural artefacts.
With a sustained focus on the notion of "American Dream" - both as the crux of American national identity and designating America as a utopian land since its conception - this module delves into the complexities and contradictions of American identity(ies) and American society(ies) in their lived experience of American Dream in both its personal and national translations and manifestations.
This module, thus, ponders the psychological, social-cultural, national and inter-national implications of this manifold notion (American Dream) as represented, criticized, and resisted in dramatic literature. Seminars will focus on the development of one playwright’s work and social thinking, or on one political/ethical issue and several dramatists’ response to it.
We will see how each dramatic text can be considered, and proves to be, an element in a set of evolving social-cultural and national debates.
The module will be organised chronologically, moving from the playwrights of the Eisenhower era to the present day: topics explored will include trauma, the psycho-symbolic role of the child figure, the child as an embodiment of both a utopian and a dystopian future, modern warfare, health crisis, gender politics, and global capitalism.
The dramatists explored here will include: Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Hansberry, Sam Shepard, Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Mitchell.
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
Teaching methods include:
- background lectures
- independent study
- screenings of plays and films
Learning activities include:
- close reading and careful analysis of selected texts and themes
- engagement in seminar discussions as participator, practitioner, and listener
- participation in group presentations and group readings/performances
- preparation for and completion of two coursework essays
This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.
|Preparation for scheduled sessions||50|
|Wider reading or practice||18|
|Completion of assessment task||30|
|Total study time||150|
Resources & Reading list
Jeffrey H. Richards and Heather S. Nathans, eds. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of American Drama. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Martin Middeken, Peter Paul Schnierer et al. (2014). The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary American Playwrights. London, NY: Bloomsbury.
S.E. Wilmer (2004). Theater, Society and the Nation: Staging American Identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson (2009). Get Real: Documentary Theater Past and Present. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Angela C. Pao (2010). No Safe Spaces: Re-Casting Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in American Theatre. University of Michigan Press.
Carol Martin (2010). Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dominic Dromgoole (2000). The Full Room. London: Methuen.
Annette J Saddik (2007). Contemporary American Drama. Edinburgh University Press.
Jill Dolan (2005). The Feminist Spectator as Critic. University of Michigan Press.
L. Bailey Mcdanie (2013). Constructing Maternal Performance in Twentieth-Century American Drama. Palgrave: Macmillan.
Marc Maufort (1995). Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theater and Drama. New York: Peter Lang.
Kerstin Schmidt (2005). The Theater of Transformation Postmodernism in American Drama. Rodopi.
Jan Cohen-Cruz (2005). Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the U.S.. New Brunswick, New Jersey, London: Rutgers UP.
Christopher B. Balme (2008). The Cambridge Introduction to Theater Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
(2010). Engaging Performance: Theater as Call and Response. NY: Routledge.
Ruby Cohn (1995). Anglo-American Interplay in Recent Drama. Cambridge University Press.
David Krasner (2005). A Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
David Edgar (1999). State of Play. London: Faber.
The assessment on this module comprises two essays: a mid-semester and a final essay.
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
An internal repeat is where you take all of your modules again, including any you passed. An external repeat is where you only re-take the modules you failed.
Repeat type: Internal & External