Drama as Literature (EL 250)

Welcome to ''Drama as Literature''

Welcome to EL 250, "Major Writers and Genres -- Drama as Literature"

The course website is located at http://blogs.setonhill.edu/DennisJerz/EL250. I will update the site periodically, so the printout I gave you is only for your convenience today. The page you will want to consult most frequently is the outline (which lists all assigned readings and the due dates for major assignments).

Feel free to post questions on the site -- I'll be happy to clarify whenever I can. (You can also contact me privately, if you don't wish to make your comment public.)

Permalink | 29 Aug 2005 | Comments (0)


[Dramatic conflict is] the spectacle of the will striving toward a goal, and conscious of the means which it employs. -- Ferdinand Brunetiere

Conflict is the heart of drama.

The Greek word agon means "contest" or "struggle," and could be applied to a sporting event or a debate. (Compare protagonist and antagonist.)

Brunetiere describes several different kinds of conflict:

  • the individual vs. fatality (that is, a fight for survival)
  • the individual vs. social law (justice, morality, etc.)
  • the individual vs. another person
  • the individual vs. himself
  • the individual vs. "the ambitions, the interests, the prejudices, the folly, the malevolence of those who surround him"

See also: "Crisis vs. Conflict"

  • Ferdinand Bruneti�re. The Law of the Drama. Trans. Philip M. Hayden. New York: Columbia University, 1914.
  • Lawson, John Howard. Theory and Technique of Playwrighting. New York: Hill and Wang, 1969. Reprint. Putnam, 1936.
Permalink | 29 Aug 2005 | Comments (15)

RRRR (Read, React, Respond, Reflect)

For EL250, a four-step process that helps you prepare for a productive class discussion using the SHU weblog system.

Read the assigned text, react by posting an agenda item (see glossary) to your weblog, respond to 2-4 items posted by your peers, and reflect on the experience in a 200-word informal essay (see "reflection paper" in the glossary).

The process of reading, reacting, responding, and reflecting is part of all critical thinking and writing. In our online community, we will practice, in an informal manner, the intellectual activity that goes into the production of a college-level research paper.

While your agenda items and lengthier reflections should be a little more formal, when you leave comments, don't worry too much about typos or grammatical mistakes. Feel free to use :) and LOL if you like.

Permalink | 29 Aug 2005 | Comments (0)

Reflection Paper - Sample

This sample reflection paper contains a direct quotation from the text, refers to peer agenda items, and and makes a non-obvious observation about the text. It's a little more developed than a typical "Reflection" needs to be (see "RRRR" in the glossary.)

The final statement ties several of these observations together and takes a stand.

Sample Reflection Paper

Sally Student
Prof. Dennis G. Jerz
EL 250
31 Aug 2005
"Heart in the Ground"
    Lee: I'm stuck! And so are you! And we can't do anything about it! Because I'm not the sheriff, your brother is. And I don't have the law in my hands—he does. Hell, I don't even have it on my side right now, thanks to you! So if you really care about this house and the farm and your family, you'll finish your supper, go upstairs, and stop the goddamn digging! (Hill, "Heart in the Ground")

How important are gender roles to this play? As grieving mother, housewife, former mental patient, and a nature-lover, Karen fits many roles that literary authors use to explore women's lives. Lee bosses her around in this scene... is he a male oppressor?

Is this scene setting up a feminist awakening? Do we long for Karen to stand up and give a speech, telling the sexist pigs in her life that she's her own woman and they can't take that away from her?

Actually, the play makes no sense unless Bill is a real threat to both characters. Lee is also earthy... he also grieves... and, as a former prisoner, he is also under the thumb of The Man. We can't expect Bill to suddenly go away if someone tells him he's a greedy, sexist pig.

Karen's vision of the moon seems to suggest salvation. In their comments, Katie Aikins and Katie Lambert both thought of the moon as a heavenly symbol, but in that scene Karen seems to sense power coming directly from the mooon -- that's more like nature worship than monotheistic faith. Courts and hospitals are mentioned as powerful institutions, but no churches are mentioned -- just a cemetery.

Lee and Karen are both only tenatively free from the threats of the institutions (correctional or medical) that had confined them. That fits in with the Christian concept of the fall from grace, though it's hardly an exclusively Christian concept. While Lee does try to assert his authority as head of the household, Karen is actually more violent than Lee (as when she slams the knife).

In "Heart in the Ground," the gender tension is secondary. Note that Lee is not introduced as "a famer" and Karen as "the farmer's wife". They are both spouses to each other and farmers in their own right. "Heart in the Ground" is not really about gender. It is, instead, a celebration of nature.

Permalink | 29 Aug 2005 | Comments (2)

Close Reading

A close reading is a careful, thorough, sustained examination of the words that make up a text. (It's the first "R" in the "RRRR" sequence.)

A close reading is really a re-reading. You look closely at it.

  1. You will probably want to read your text once through fairly quickly, highlighting unfamiliar words or puzzling details (or marking them with sticky notes, if you're reading a library book).
  2. Go back and look more carefully at the places you marked. Did the ending explain some of the things you initially found puzzling? Do you see any recurring patterns?
  3. Once you have a sense of what you think is important, go through the text again, this time searching specifically for more of whatever caught your eye.
  4. Once you have identified the details that you find interesting, you should come up with a thesis -- a non-obvious claim, supported with direct quotations from the material you are studying. (It is not enough merely to write down a list of isolated observations, in the order they popped into your head.)

When you write a close reading, you should assume that your reader is not only familiar with the text you are examining, but has a copy of it within reach.

Generally speaking, the author of a close reading does not retell the plot. Neither is it necessary to profile the characters, give advice to the playwright, or share your personal musings. Neither does a close reading use a literary work to make general claims about the outside world -- ("racism is bad" or "women have come a long way").

What does a close reading do?

It might look closely at a monologue or brief scene, such as Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost, and analyze the explicit plot points and the subtle foreshadowing contained in that scene. It might examine all the kinds of containers that appear in "Heart in the Ground," or a particular theme, such as the traditional gender roles seen in the play.

What words did the author choose, what do they mean, and what function do they serve? In what ways is word order and grammatical structure significant? (One character might speak only a few words at a time, but grunt a lot; another may ramble. Talk like Yoda, another character might.)

See also:

Getting an A on an English Paper

That means reading every word: it's not enough to have a vague sense of the plot. Maybe that sounds obvious, but few people pay serious attention to the words that make up every work of literature. Remember, English papers aren't about the real world; they're about representations of the world in language. Words are all we have to work with, and you have to pay attention to them. -- Jack Lynch

How to Do a Close Reading

We need more evidence, so we go back to the text--the whole essay now, not just this one passage--and look for additional clues. And as we proceed in this way, paying close attention to the evidence, asking questions, formulating interpretations, we engage in a process that is central to essay writing and to the whole academic enterprise: in other words, we reason toward our own ideas. --Patricia Kain

Permalink | 31 Aug 2005 | Comments (1)

Catholic Social Teaching (CST)

Principles, once internalized, lead to something. They prompt activity, impel motion, direct choices. A principled person always has a place to stand, knows where he or she is coming from and likely to end up. Principles always lead the person who possesses them somewhere, for some purpose, to do something, or choose not to. -- William J. Byron, "Ten Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching"

One can read a novel or a poem alone, and one can create it alone. The same is not true of drama. Of all the art forms, drama is the most social. The very word "drama" comes from a Greek word that means "doing." We experience the theater communally, so it seems natural that the theater speaks about social issues.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is a body of principles, informed by religious tradition and centuries of historical experience, but directed towards establishing a just society for all people, whether Catholic or not.

Among the values promoted by CST are the principles of the dignity of the human person ("It is not what you do or what you have that gives you a claim on respect; it is simply being human that establishes your dignity," says Byron), and the principle of the common good ("the social conditions that allow people to reach their full human potential and to realize their human dignity").

  • Drama is the most social of the art forms.
  • The public nature of drama demands audiences to make moral judgments.
  • Drama has deep religious roots, born through Greek worship services from 2500 years ago, and reappearing about 900 years ago an extension of the Mass (a ritual in which a priest re-enacts the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper).
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is a collection of philosophical and moral principles that examine how human beings relate to each other in a just society. It is an extension of Christ's command to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

For us, the plays will always be the main subject, and CST will be one of several tools we will use to examine the plays. The plays will be written by Protestants, Jews, the non-religious, and a pagan, in addition to Catholics. We will look at some plays that the pope would probably dislike, and some that the pope would love.

You won't be expected to be able to apply every principle of CST to every play on the syllabus. Your grade won't depend on how "Catholic" your answers are.

Every play ever written says something about humanity, and all religious thought describes human attempts to define ourselves in relationship to the universe, I hope that CST will be a productive guide to finding deeper meaning in dramatic literature, because CST invites... no, expects people to bring a well-informed conscience to bear on the important ethical issues of the day. Drama is a means for exploring many of the same questions. Under what circumstances is the death penalty acceptable? Under what conditions is war or insurrection justified? What is a just minimum wage?

We will absorb CST principles a few at a time, as the issues come up during class discussions. There will be some supplementary reading. Later in the term, you will write an exercise that asks you to apply some principle of Catholic Social Teaching to one or more of the plays we have read so far this term.

Permalink | 2 Sep 2005 | Comments (6)