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Syllabus (PDF)

Course Description

In this course we will sample the range of mainstream and experimental drama that has been composed during the past century. Half of these plays are now acknowledged to be influential "classics" of modern drama; the other half are prize-winning contemporary plays that have broken new ground. We will study them both as distinguished writing and as scripts for performance. Moreover, all of these plays are historical: some draw their subject matter from past centuries, while others convey a sense of how contemporary events are informed by and located within a larger historical frame. During the first century of film, television, and computers, it seems that writers for the theater have been especially attuned to the relationships between past and present, in their art and in society. Within this multimedia context, we will consider what drama in particular has to offer now and in the future. This is also a HASS Communication-Intensive Course, in which we will work on improving your skills, awareness, and confidence as a writer and speaker; a variety of writing opportunities (including revision of at least one essay), class reports, and group performance work will aid us in realizing these goals.


You should come to class ready and eager to discuss the assigned play. That means having read it (at least once), thought about it, and taken sufficient care of yourself to be alert in mind and body. A short, focused response paper will be due on the first day we discuss three plays (two-three pages, double-spaced). An eight-page essay on an "outside play" will allow you to be the class expert and share your collective familiarity with more drama than we could manage to read collectively. Another longer essay (8 pages) will allow you to pursue a topic of most interest to you, either by comparing two of the plays in a specific, focused way, and/or by pursuing outside research to enrich your understanding of a play we’ve read together. During the second half of the course, the class will be divided into teams that will perform a scene and lead the discussion of a particular play. Students will also report on supplementary readings and research, and share the insights they gained through writing the comparative essay.
  • Response papers, (6-9 pp.): total 10%
  • Outside play essay, (8 pp.): 20%
  • Revision of one of the two assignments above required; revision of both, optional. Turn in original drafts along with revisions. [Original grade and revision grade will be averaged to replace the orginal grade.]
  • Comparative and/or research essay, (8 pp.): 20%
  • Scene performances and class leadership: 10%
  • Class participation, including development of discussion questions and reports: 40%

These are approximate weightings: I reserve the right to modify them slightly, usually in your favor.

This is a twelve-unit subject, which assumes that you will allot nine hours/week outside the classroom for reading, writing, rehearsing, and thinking deep thoughts about twentieth-century drama.

Please note: Written work must be submitted by the due date. Except in cases of personal emergency, late work will not receive written response and will receive a lower grade. Unless you receive an individual extension for special reasons or petition to receive a grade of Incomplete in the course, no work can be accepted after the final week of classes.

I hope the following statement is unnecessary: conscious plagiarism of any sort is completely unacceptable. Discussion of ideas and communal learning is a primary goal of this subject; stealing others' ideas or words (as distinct from citing or adapting them openly and honestly) undermines this goal. Please consult my stylesheet and talk with me if you have any doubts whatsoever about proper citation of sources or about standards of intellectual honesty. Anyone whom I discover plagiarizing work will not pass this subject; furthermore, I will pursue disciplinary hearings and advocate expulsion from MIT. I hope and trust that none of this will occur.

MIT's academic honesty policy can be found at the following link:

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