English 142: Reading Drama (3 credits)

EGO Home » How-To Guides » Syllabi

Instructor: Ann Garner

"Drama is that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment that constitutes poetic faith.
Poetic faith. It’s a beautiful idea."
Geoffrey on Slings and Arrows (Canadian TV show)

Since Aristotle first set about the describe drama in Poetics (about 2,345 years ago), much has been said about what drama is, what it is supposed to do and be, what it means, and how it reflects and creates the culture in which we live. But drama is meant to be performed, and reading it presents unique problems. It is worth learning how to read drama, however, because doing so also offers significant pleasures. Understanding how to read a drama gives us insight not only into our larger cultural stories (for drama is still our primary method of storytelling) but also into the smaller, interpersonal relationships we all experience. And it’s not that hard to get started.

• To learn techniques for reading a play, as opposed to a novel, a poem, an email, an essay, etc.
• To learn how to assess a play for strength of plot, character, theme, spectacle, language and so on
• To fuse literary and theatrical approaches in order to render the most complete understanding of a given play
• To work toward mastery in close reading and critical thinking
We will do all of this through a combination of discussion, in-class activities, writing and research.

This course follows the university guidelines on academic honesty and plagiarism. If you have questions, please ask me or see http://www.umass.edu/academichonesty/.
I take issues of academic dishonesty extremely seriously. Please don’t do it.

For word processing documents, please use the following:
Times New Roman. 11 point font, 1.5 spacing. (It saves paper and is a little easier to read.)
Bibliographies should be completed using MLA citations.
Act.scene.line citations should be used for Shakespeare. For other plays, Act.scene should be used.

All books are at Amherst Books, except Cradle which is in a packet from Collective Copies.
Poetics - Aristotle
Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
Much Ado About Nothing - William Shakespeare
A Doll’s House - Henrik Ibsen
The Seagull - Anton Chekhov
The Cradle Will Rock - Marc Blitzstein
Oleanna - David Mamet


INTRODUCTION - Syllabus, Aristotle’s Poetics - 9/8 - 9/17 (Weeks 1 & 2)
Mon 9/8 - Mon 9/13 - Introductions, Syllabus, Script Analysis
Wed 9/15 - Poetics DUE (Sections 1-4 and start memorizing the definition of tragedy at 3.1)
Fri 9/17 - Poetics Discussion cont’d

PLAY 1 - The Importance of Being Earnest - 9/20 - 10/1 (Weeks 3 & 4)
Mon 9/20 - Importance of Being Earnest DUE

PLAY 2 - Much Ado About Nothing - 10/4 - 10/15 (Weeks 5 & 6)
Mon 10/4 - Much Ado About Nothing DUE
Tues 10/12 - WE HAVE CLASS (Tues as Monday Schedule)

PLAY 3 - A Doll’s House - 10/18 - 10/29 (Weeks 7 & 8)
Mon 10/18 - A Doll’s House DUE

PLAY 4 - The Seagull - 11/1 - 11/12 (Weeks 9 & 10)
Mon 11/1 - The Seagull DUE

PLAY 5 - The Cradle Will Rock - 11/15 - 11/24 (Weeks 11 & 12)
Mon 11/15 - The Cradle Will Rock DUE
11/24 - Thespis Day!


PLAY 6 - Oleanna - 11/29 - 12/10 (Weeks 13 & 14)
Mon 11/29 - Oleanna DUE
Fri 12/10 - Semester Wrap Up



Participation 30 points
Cohort Presentation 20 points
Reading Responses 30 points (3 @ 10 points each)
Dramaturgical Portfolio 20 points
100 points total

Point Scale

100-93 A
92-89 A-
88-86 B+
85-83 B
82-79 B-
78-76 C+
75-73 C
72-69 C-
68-66 D+
65-60 D
59 or below F

PARTICPATION (30 points)
Participation is an important element of this course; that is why it is worth 30 points of your final grade. Showing up to class is a good first step, but it is not enough. Your grade will depend on what you do when you are here. Excessive absences (more than 5) will hurt your grade, but so will being here and zoning out. On the upside, good participation while you are here can help counterbalance excessive absences.

During our second meeting, you will sign up for a presentation date. In doing so, you will also be signing up for a “cohort.” A cohort is just a group of people with whom you can discuss course material and build a rapport. If you miss a class and need to get caught up, contact your cohort.

About the presentation: Your cohort will present on one of the plays we are reading. On your presentation day, you will be responsible for filling the entire class period (50 minutes). That won’t be hard, as you’ll see when you look at the list of what you MUST do for your presentation below:

• You must create a handout that your fellow students can take away with them. If you want me to make copies for you, I need a hard copy of the handout by the class period before. If I don’t get it by then, you are on your own.
• You must situate the play historically.
• You must provide biographical detail about the playwright.
• You must involve the entire class, either with an activity or discussion.
• You must inform me a week in advance what you are planning to do.
• You MUST provide a work log, signed by each member of the cohort, detailing what each member did. If you sign it and your contribution to the presentation was not correct, you will have to live with that.

The cohorts are large so you should be able to divide and conquer. Research will be required and sources should be cited in a bibliography. Also, remember, you must fulfill these parameters, but how you choose to present this information is mostly up to your own creativity.

READING RESPONSES (10 points each - 30 points total)

Choose three (3) of the six plays we are reading and write a response to a specific question about that play. Reading responses should be about 1 ½ - 2 pgs. Below are the questions for each of the plays:

The Importance of Being Earnest - Due 9/20
Choose a passage from the play and do a script analysis of it. Make sure you cite the passage (if it is long, like a page) or reproduce it at the top of the response (if it is only a few lines) with proper citation. How does your analysis of the passage fit into the larger themes of the play?

Much Ado About Nothing - Due 10/4
Much Ado About Nothing, like all Shakespeare comedies, has a very intricate plot. In fact, it has three plots: the Beatrice-Benedick plot, the Hero-Claudio plot and the Dogberry plot. How do these plots work together to illuminate the theme (be sure to specify the theme itself)?

A Doll’s House - Due 10/18
The characters in A Doll’s House make some very interesting and sometimes suspect choices. Choose the one choice that you think is most shocking or pivotal to the story and discuss why that choice was so important to the play as a whole.

The Seagull - Due 11/1
How does Chekhov characterize the theatrical world in The Seagull? Why is his characterization important?

The Cradle Will Rock - Due 11/15
Choose one element of spectacle (lights, costumes, “stage effects,” etc.) from The Cradle Will Rock and describe how you might stage it to underscore the theme of the work (be sure to specify the theme itself).

Oleanna - Due 11/29
Oleanna is perhaps David Mamet’s most controversial work, and it caused many people to label him misogynistic and misanthropic. Based on this play, is Mamet a misogynist (hates women)? a misanthrope (hates people)? both? neither?

Responses are due at the end of class on the day that we begin discussion of the plays.
Responses that are turned in late will lose 2 points for the first late day and 1 point per day after that.


For your final project, you will create a dramaturgical portfolio for a theoretical production of one of the plays we have read this semester. You should think of yourself as a director crafting a vision of the play. To start, ask yourself these questions:

• What is this play really about?
• How do I show that onstage?

The answers to these question will tell you what you need to do to fill out the following sections of the portfolio.

Section 1 - The Vision
This is where the first question comes in. What is the major theme of this play that you want to emphasize with your production? What do you think is really important or exciting about this work? What new thing will your production show us?

Section 2 - Casting
Cast your show using famous actors, dead or alive. Explain why these actors would be perfect for the part as you envision it.

Section 3 - The Aesthetic
What period is this set in? What will the costumes look like? What will the set look like? Drawings, fabric swatches and pictures from magazines can be extremely helpful when talking about an aesthetic.

Section 4 - One Scene
Choose one (1) specific scene or part of a scene and complete a script analysis of it. How does this analysis fit into the larger vision of your production?

Portfolios are DUE by 5PM on December 13th, the day finals start. I will take them earlier.
Late portfolios turned in after the due date/time will lose 5 points the first day and 1 point per day after that.

Add Your Syllabus

Wiki Help

  • Log in to edit pages.
  • Use the edit buttons at the bottom of the page to make changes.
  • Create a new page by typing [[[new page name]]] on any editable page.
  • For more help, visit our help pages.
  • Join the UMass EGO wiki.
feed-icon-14x14.png RSS

Subscribe to the EGO Listserve

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License