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The University of Southampton

ENGL3091 American dreams? Monetized bodies, terror, and trauma in American Drama

Module Overview

What constitutes the experience of being American, or of America itself? This module will explore these questions by examining the aesthetic, social, and political ideas of modern and contemporary American dramatists. The theorist Jean Baudrillard saw America as a ‘utopia achieved’, a new world order distinct from European notions of progress and history. Yet the modern period, spanning the Vietnam War, the rise of global capitalism, and the repercussions of 9/11 in the Middle East, undermined this vision. 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.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • consider plays dramaturgically, reading them as texts for performance
  • engage productively and reflectively with existing scholarship and draw on a variety of critical approaches to explore the crucial issues informing American drama of this period
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • the relationship between playwrights and a number of theatre companies and directors
  • the generic and formal strategies used by modern American playwrights


This module delves into the complexities and contradictions of American identity(ies) and American society(ies), and ponders their national and inter-national ramifications 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. It is hoped that the texts will emerge as elements in a set of evolving national debates. The module will be organised chronologically, moving from the playwrights of the Eisenhower era to the present day: topics explored will include modern warfare and simulatory power; gender; genetics; psychology; global capitalism.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - background lectures - seminars - independent study - screenings of plays and films - workshops 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 sessions50
Wider reading or practice18
Follow-up work10
Completion of assessment task30
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Christopher B. Balme (2008). The Cambridge Introduction to Theater Studies. 

Jeffrey H. Richards and Heather S. Nathans, eds. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of American Drama. 

Ruby Cohn (1995). Anglo-American Interplay in Recent Drama. 

Jan Cohen-Cruz (2005). Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the U.S.. 

Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson (2009). Get Real: Documentary Theater Past and Present. 

Jill Dolan (2005). The Feminist Spectator as Critic. 

Marc Maufort (1995). Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theater and Drama. 

Dominic Dromgoole (2000). The Full Room. 

Angela C. Pao (2010). No Safe Spaces: Re-Casting Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in American Theatre. 

David Krasner (2005). A Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama. 

David Edgar (1999). State of Play. 

Kerstin Schmidt (2005). The Theater of Transformation Postmodernism in American Drama. 

Engaging Performance: Theater as Call and Response. 

Carol Martin (2010). Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage. 

S.E. Wilmer (2004). Theater, Society and the Nation: Staging American Identities. 

Annette J Saddik (2007). Contemporary American Drama. 

Martin Middeken, Peter Paul Schnierer et al. (2014). The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary American Playwrights. 

L. Bailey Mcdanie (2013). Constructing Maternal Performance in Twentieth-Century American Drama. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 60%
Essay 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


Costs for this module will not exceed £40.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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