Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

This course is about reading, but reading of a special kind. We will spend most of our time carefully reading a number of plays to find out whatever we can about them, particularly what they say and how they say it. A few plays we will treat somewhat summarily, dealing only with large issues or problems. Other plays will be examined in great detail. But in either case, we will not only be concerned with the words on the page: the task is to read theatrically, to learn to take into account elements that the words in the script only subtly indicate but that nonetheless shape the play in performance.

"A play in a book is only the shadow of a play and not even a clear shadow of it... The printed script of a play is hardly more than an architect's blueprint of a house not yet built or [a house] built and destroyed. The color, the grace and levitation, the structural pattern in motion, the quick interplay of live beings, suspended like fitful lightening in a cloud, these things are the play, not the words on paper nor the thoughts and ideas of an author." --Tennessee Williams

Yet, even if, as Williams states, the script is only a blueprint of a performance in the theater, it is still, under most circumstances, the essential and initial component of a production. Blueprints not followed often yield uninhabitable houses.

Our task and our goal is to be able to make complete sense of a script, to gain a comprehensive understanding of it. That means discerning all the separate elements, understanding each of them, how they work individually and in concert, then fitting them all together in a balanced interpretation of the play. Of course, there is not just one way to read a play, not just one correct interpretation of a given script, but no reading, no interpretation, is valid unless it makes sense of everything in the script and takes into account the relative importance of each of those things. And, of course, highlighting some aspects of the script at the expense of other aspects equally important is to misread, to analyze incorrectly. We are looking for accurate, balanced interpretations.

As important as realizing that a script presents a number of "correct" options is understanding the consequences of choosing among those options. Once an interpretation of a script has been decided upon, the range of subsequent choices is automatically limited. Coherence and clarity in the presentation of a play demand that all the elements hang together logically. In each of the plays we read in this class, one of our major concerns will be the consequences for productions of particular interpretations.

We will approach plays from several different perspectives and that fact indicates something essential about this course. You will not be shown "the" method for script analysis, though some pattern for reading scripts will emerge. What we are after is making complete enough sense of a play to mount a coherent production. But that goal can be achieved from several directions, and that is why we will attack the plays we read in different ways.


Students will write papers, of varying length, on most of the assigned plays. In a class where so much depends on class discussion, attendance and participation are also major obligations.

Grading Policy

Class Participation 35%
Short Papers 35%
Major Project (Paper and Last Presentation) 30%