Drama as Literature (EL 250)

Hill, "Heart in the Ground"

KAREN: I can't think—I'm restless when I'm here and all the time I'm doing chores—

LEE: Well, that's just fine. Huh? I'm exhausted from burying her twice already this week. And now I get to do it again because you were restless.


KAREN: My baby belongs here—I don't care what Bill—

LEE: Karen—Karen! They got laws, okay? Codes and things. I don't know what all, but my hands are tied. They're not gonna let us bury her on land this close to the river.

(Online: http://www.theatrehistory.com/plays/heartintheground.html)

Read the play, post your reaction in a comment on this page, reflect on your peer's comments, and respond in 100-200 words. (See below.)

Notes and Queries

Read: I suggest that you read the play for the first time before you read these notes. I am far more interested in helping you to develop the capacity to read and interpret plays on your own, and far less interested in getting you to memorize and spit back a list of things that I think are interesting about this particular play.

React: Post a comment on this web page that indicates what you'd like to talk about during the class discussion. (I call this your "agenda item.")

Respond: After you have read the reactions posted by your peers, identify interpretations that hadn't occurred to you, details you miss, or claims that you disagree with. (In the future, I'll ask you to engage with your peers directly.)

Reflect: Now open up a word processor, type your chosen passage at the top of the page, and write about 200 words that reflect on the significance of the passage that you chose. Make direct reference to a claim or observation made by a peer (but don't simply agree; explain how your peer differs from, or modifies, your own opinion).

Here's a sample reflection, to get you started. It represents just one of the many possible approaches.

Suggested reading: Forster, introduction and Chapter 1.

Permalink | 31 Aug 2005 | Comments (36)

Glaspell, ''Trifles"

(Gwynn.) Also available online at http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng384/trifles.htm

MRS. PETERS. (in a whisper). When I was a girl--my kitten--there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes--and before I could get there--(Covers her face an instant.) If they hadn't held me back, I would have-- (Catches herself, looks upstairs, where steps are heard, falters weakly.)--hurt him.

MRS. HALE (with a slow look around her.) I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around. (Pause.) No, Wright wouldn't like the bird--a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.

MRS. PETERS (moving uneasily). We don't know who killed the bird.

MRS. HALE. I knew John Wright.

Read, React, Respond, and Reflect (as explained on the "Heart in the Ground" page.).

If you Google for notes on this play, recognize that many online resources will be talking about "A Jury of Her Peers," which is Glaspell's short story version of the play we are studying. A statement that might accurately describe the short story might not apply to the play.

The events depicted in the play are loosely based on a real event.

As a young woman, Susan Glaspell covered the 1901 trial of an Iowa farm wife charged with killing her husband with a hatchet while he slept. The wife pled not guilty, claiming she was asleep in bed with her husband but did not awaken quickly enough to see the real killer.

Angel, Marina. “Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and A Jury of Her Peers: Women Abuse in a Literary and Legal Context.” (1997) Buffalo Law Review 45 (1997): 779-808. Edited version available at <http://www.lawsite.ca/WLSC/Angel_w.htm>. 31 July 2005.

While learning about the historical events that inpsired the drama may be interesting, understand that our task is to study the script that Glaspell wrote. We cannot use details that do not appear in the script in order to "prove" anything about the character Minnie Foster, who only exists within the context of a dramatic work.

We can, however, examine the historical record in order to identify which details a playwright exaggerated, which details she invented, and which details she left out, in order to learn precisely what the playwright did in order to present the conflict that she wanted to present.

Literary study is an investigation of the representation of truth, and that representation is always deeply affected by the author's chosen medium.

Think about it... if Glaspell had wanted to tell a completely factual and accurate account of the events, why didn't she just re-publish her newspaper articles? Why, after she wrote her one-act play, did she feel the need to write it again as a short story?

Permalink | 31 Aug 2005 | Comments (28)

Jacko, "Catholic Social Teaching"

While CST has been developed within the Catholic tradition, its biblical foundations make it meaningful to all who follow the biblical tradition, and its broad humanistic strains can resonate with people of all faith traditions.
Sister Dorothy Jacko, a faculty member at Seton Hill University, introduces Catholic Social Teaching. The full text is available on J-Web, under the "handouts" section for this class.
Permalink | 2 Sep 2005 | Comments (9)

Ramsey, "Traction"

ELMORE: The few times me and him got leave over in Saudi and got our hands on beers, 'cause them Moslem-ites don't drink, even the good ones, ol' Brandon would get four or five in him and start preachin'.

MIKEY: I didn't smell no booze on his breath.

ELMORE: We laughed our asses off when he did that preacher stuff-- and we needed some fuckin' laughs more than anything... more than poozle, even. Fuckin' scuds slammin' down and Brandon talkin' nuts kept us from goin' nuts.... The glue is probably just giving him flashbacks is all.

MIKEY: [Pause.] He done miracles.


Ramsey, Erik. "Traction." TheatreHistory.com. 1995. http://www.theatrehistory.com/plays/traction.html. 11 Aug 2005.

Permalink | 2 Sep 2005 | Comments (28)

Byron, William J. ''Ten building blocks of Catholic Social Teaching''

By including Catholic social teaching among the essentials of the faith, the bishops are affirming the existence of credenda (things to be believed) that become, in the believer, a basis for the agenda (things to be done) the believer must follow. Thus Catholic social action flows from Catholic social doctrine. How to bring the social portion of the doctrine of the faith to the attention of believers is the challenge the bishops have now put once again before Catholic pastors and educators at every level.
Byron, William J. ''Ten building blocks of Catholic Social Teaching.'' America 31 Oct, 1998.

While communities, nations, and faiths may not always agree on the credenda, the principles of Catholic Social Teaching suggest that as human beings we all have much in common where it comes to the agenda. What are some elements of Catholic Social Teaching that surprised you? Are there any that you find particularly affirming or challenging?

Permalink | 7 Sep 2005 | Comments (11)

Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor Intro through p. 22

Read the introduction up to chapter 3. Briefly apply chapter 2 to "Heart in the Ground," or apply chapter 3 to Krogstad in A Doll's House. In a short paragraph, incorporate a quotation from Foster and a quotation from your chosen literary work.

When you are ready to post your response, come to this web page, and click "MT Quickpost". Doing so will generate a new blog entry on your own personal site, and at the same time append a message on this site, inviting your peers to come visit your entry.

Permalink | 9 Sep 2005 | Comments (6)

Robbins and Prejean, Dead Man Walking: The Shooting Script

The assignment asks you to read the movie script.

Permalink | 21 Sep 2005 | Comments (8)

Rix, ''Was Oedipus Framed?''

Rix, Robert W. "Was Oedipus Framed?." Orbis Litterarum 54.2 (1999): 134-145. Academic Search Elite. Reeves Library, Seton Hill University. http://reeveslib.setonhill.edu.

Focuses on the problematic question of guilt in the canonical drama of 'Oedipus Rex' and the later critical solutions that have been offered to it. Unresolvedness of the drama that brings out into the open some essential discussions of how all narratives are structured; Extent to which the tragic structure of the play can be said to be determined by its historical context.

I suggest that you take notes as you read, underlining unfamiliar words and looking up their definitions. You may have to read this more than once in order to make sense of it. I find it almost impossible to read dense scholarly material online, so as much as I hate to kill trees, I suggest that you print it out and mark it up.

If this is your first close encounter with an academic text, don't panic . You won't be quizzed on this material -- you don't have to memorize it. Just note that the author spends almost no time summarizing the plot or describing the characters, except in short bursts that are part of the argument the author wants to make, as on page 136, where the author tells part of the protagonist's growing understanding of his guilt, and uses those details to support the idea that the play is, at this point, a detective story.

Permalink | 30 Sep 2005 | Comments (1)

Anonymous, ''Everyman''

Here shall you see how Fellowship and Jollity, Both Strength, Pleasure, and Beauty, Will fade from thee as flower in May. For ye shall here, how our heavenly king Calleth Everyman to a general reckoning: Give audience, and here what he doth say.

I've posted a slightly annotated, modernized version of Everyman on the course website.

The play "Everyman" (in this form, modernized from the original Middle English) does not present a psychologically realistic character. Everyman is, instead, an abstraction -- that is, an allegorical figure, whose experiences and motives are meant to be as general and universal as possible.

Permalink | 3 Oct 2005 | Comments (3)

Lindsay-Abaire, Fuddy Meers

Read the whole script. Make plans to see the SHU production. (Quiz.)

For fun:

Head-bonk-induced amnesia—in which victims lose recollection of their identity after suffering sharp, zany blows to the cranial cavity with such household items as ladders, paint buckets, anvils and oversized novelty mallets—has long baffled science," Yates said. "Our research now indicates that this condition, long considered incurable, may possibly be reversed with the application of a second head-bonk of equal or greater severity. It is our hope that millions of amnesiacs across the U.S. will one day have their memories of themselves and loved ones restored through such revolutionary, nutty treatment." -- Doctors Closing in on 'Second Head Bonk' Amnesia Cure"

Permalink | 5 Oct 2005 | Comments (10)

Anonymous, York Corpus Christi Plays

The handout contains modernized versions of two of the plays, "Creation and the Fall of Lucifer" and "The Crucifixion."

York Moderinzation.doc

(You may post one agenda item to count for both of these plays, but I would also like you to post an agenda item regarding the background material I have posted on the York Corpus Christi Cycle.)

Permalink | 7 Oct 2005 | Comments (4)

Various, York Corpus Christi Background

Several short readings designed to illustrate the social and religious context in which the York Corpus Christi plays were produced.

A Christ Taken Prisoner
An amusing historical anecdote that illustrates how the religious, economic, and civic lives of the people were closely intertwined. The example is not from the medieval English town of York, but rather describes a different occasion in a different country.

Religious, Political, Economic and Artistic Contexts

Computer Simulation of Wagon Motion

Video captures and video clips from a 1977 production of the full cycle (including the two plays you are asked to read).

Permalink | 7 Oct 2005 | Comments (1)

Marlowe, Faustus (to end of Act II)

This is the "B" text of Christopher Marlowe's Faustus.

The story is based on the legend of a man whose thirst for knowledge leads him to sell his soul to the devil. In some ways, Fausuts is a kind of "mad scientist."

The text we will be looking at is from Tufts, and was edited by Hilary Binda.

Table of Contents for The Tragedie of Doctor Faustus

Permalink | 10 Oct 2005 | Comments (11)

Bohannon, "Shakespeare in the Bush"

(Online: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/people/home/idris/Essays/Shakes_in_Bush.htm)

As an English professor, I resist announcing to my students what a particular work "means." While I don't believe that anything and everything goes, to paraphrase Hamlet, "There are more interpretations in heaven and earth/Than are dreamt of in your Cliffs Notes."

"Hamlet's dead father wasn't an omen. Seeing him might have been an omen, but he was not." My audience looked as confused as I sounded. "It was Hamlet's dead father. It was a thing we call a 'ghost'." I had to use the English word, for unlike many of the neighboring tribes, these people didn't believe in the survival after death of any individuating part of the personality.

"What is a 'ghost?' an omen?"

"No, a 'ghost' is someone who is dead but who walks around and can talk, and people can hear him and see him but not touch him."

They objected, "One can touch zombis."

"No, no! It was not a dead body the witches had animated to sacrifice and eat. No one else made Hamlet's dead father walk. He did it himself."

"Dead men can't walk," protested my audience as one man.

I was quite willing to compromise, "A 'ghost' is the dead man's shadow."

But again they objected. "Dead men cast no shadows."

"They do in my country," I snapped.

The old man quelled the babble of disbelief that arose immediately and told me with that insincere, but courteous, agreement one extends to the fancies of the young, ignorant, and superstitious, "No doubt in your country the dead can also walk without being zombis."

Permalink | 28 Oct 2005 | Comments (0)

Ives, "Sure Thing"


Permalink | 28 Oct 2005 | Comments (0)

Samuels, Kindertransport

Read the whole script, and make plans to see the SHU production before 21 Nov.

Permalink | 7 Nov 2005 | Comments (4)

Wilson, Fences


This play was originally scheduled for Friday, but I ran into a problem with the e-reserve. I've jiggled the schedule a bit, so now please read Fences for Monday.


Permalink | 14 Nov 2005 | Comments (5)

Schnitzler, Professor Bernhardi Acts 1-3

Update, 14 Nov: Select my name from the list on the library e-reserve page. Click on the course name, and you can download the play one act at a time.

Permalink | 16 Nov 2005 | Comments (9)

Schnitzler, Professor Bernhardi (Finish)

Update, 16 Nov (3pm). Note -- there's actually a fifth act. I just checked with the library, and it should should be online any time now.

Permalink | 18 Nov 2005 | Comments (2)

Samuels, Kindertransport

Discuss your reaction to the SHU production.

Permalink | 21 Nov 2005 | Comments (4)

Miller, Death of a Salesman

Act I. (In your anthology.)

Permalink | 5 Dec 2005 | Comments (9)