Sample Syllabus

Modern Drama                                                           

 In this course through the examination of plays we will explore the development of Modern Drama and theatre as a mirror of modern society and psyche.  Our focus will begin with the principal movements from the late 19th century to the present through examination of approximately twenty plays and related historical or critical readings.  Over the course of the semester we will read plays, discuss playwrights, and examine the historical, social, and critical contexts of the period.  Although analysis of dramatic texts will be our main focus, we will also discuss historical documents and artifacts, dramatic reconstructions (including taped and live performances), and major dramatic theories. 

Objectives: As a result of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify and discuss the major plays and playwrights from the Modern to Contemporary period.
  • Identify and assess codes and conventions of 19th and 20th century drama and performance.
  • Critically analyze dramatic literature.
  • Articulate correlations between theatre and performance manifestations with predominant religious, social, and political conditions.
  • Locate and utilize artifacts, documentation, and scholarship relating to drama, theatre, and performance.

Course Requirements:


Performance Critique:

  • 2 @ 10 points = 20 points: All students are required to attend the Drama Department’s main stage productions of:
    • The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Sheriden Thomas, running 2/17-19 and 2/24-26
    • Arabian Nights, running 4/12-16

After attending a show, students will be required to write a 3 page critique of each production

  • Students are strongly encouraged to attend student shows and one-time only performances on the Tufts campus.  Students will then be able to write a brief critique on such productions for extra credit. 

Oral Presentation:

  • 1 @ 10 points = 10 points: In groups of 2-3, students will research and present a 20 minute interactive PowerPoint presentation on a selected play, playwright, or theatre company related to the assigned play on that date.  Students will be required to submit a working bibliography of a minimum of 5 scholarly sources, 2 weeks prior to their presentation date for approval from the instructor.  On the day of their presentation, students will be required to distribute an outline to the class, and submit their PowerPoint presentation through blackboard.  Presentations will begin in Week Four.

Research Paper:

  • Abstract/Bibliography @ 5 points; Final @ 15 points = 20 points: Students will select a topic from Modern Drama: 1879-2011, and write a 5 page research paper drawn from at least 5 scholarly sources. A list of possible topics will be distributed, and can be related to your Oral Presentation.  Students will also be required to submit a 100 word abstract and an annotated bibliography two weeks prior to the submission of the final paper.


  • Unit Exams: 2 @ 15 points = 30 points
  • Final Exam: 1 @ 20 points = 20 points:  All exams will cover terms, personalities, significant art, drama, theatre, theories, historical narratives, artifacts, readings, class notes, presentations, films, and discussions.

Attendance Policy:

  • -3 Points for each Unexcused Absence:  Active, engaged participation is a requirement of this course.  Students are permitted two unexcused absences; for each absence thereafter, 3% points will be deducted from the final grade.

Note: This is a working syllabus and is subject to change at the instructor’s discretion

Class Schedule and Assignments:

(Please note readings and assignments are due on the day they are listed)

 Unit One: European Explosion of New Styles

Week One:

1/24 – Course introduction, 19th Century Antecedents and historical contexts

1/26 – Realism and Naturalism, Read:   Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Worthen, pages 525-528 (“The Modern Theater”) and 927-933 (Zola)

Week Two:

1/31 –  Impressionism and Symbolism, Read:   Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, Worthen, pages 924-927 (Nietzsche) and 933-938 (Stanislavski)

2/2 – Expressionism and Surrealism, Read:   Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata (Handout),Worthen, pages 528-531 (“Forms of Drama”), View at Tisch: Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata

Week Three:

2/7 – Meta-theater, Read:   Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Worthen, pages 531-535 (“Acting and Performance” and “Women in Modern Drama and Theatre”)

2/9 – Epic Theatre, Read:   Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Worthen, 938-941 (Brecht)

Week Four:

2/14 – Wit and Manners, Read: Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Worthen, 959-965 (Chaudhuri)

2/16 – Independent Theatre and Theatrical Societies, Read:   Shaw’s Major Barbara, Selections from “Tolstoy: Tragedian or Comedian?” by Shaw (Handout)

Week Five:

2/21 – Presidents Day (No Class)

2/23 – Review of Unit One

2/24 – Exam #1 on Unit 1 (Monday schedule on Thursday)

Unit Two: The Second Wave of Modern American and European Drama

Week Six:

2/28 – Early American Realism, Read:   Boucicault’s The Octoroon, Worthen, pages 969-972 (“The United States” and “The American Theater?”), 

Performance Critique due – The Importance of Being Earnest

3/2 – America’s first Modern Playwright, Read:   O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon, Worthen, pages 1299-1301 (Miller)

Week Seven:

3/7 – Early American Expressionism, Read:   O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, Worthen, pages 972-975 (“European Influence and American Innovation” and “Postwar Experiments”)

3/9 – Early American Political Theatre, Read:   Odets’s Waiting for Lefty (Handout), Worthen, pages 976-978 (“The Federal Theatre Project”)

Week Eight:

3/14 – Post War Realism, Read:   Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Worthen, pages 978-980 (“Popular Theatre and Mass Culture” and “American Drama in Performance and History”)

3/16 – Theatre of the Absurd, Read: Beckett’s Endgame, Worthen, pages 941-947 (Artaud) and 953-956 (Esslin)

 SPRING BREAK – March 19th – 27th

Week Nine:

3/28 – Review of unit 2

3/30 – Exam #2 on Unit 2         

Unit Three: Political, Poly-Cultural, Postmodern and Postcolonial Theatre          

Week Ten:

4/4 – Early African American and Latino political and poly-cultural theatre, Read:   Baraka’s Dutchman, Valdez’s Zoot Suit, Worthen, pages 975-976 (“African-American Drama and Theater”) and 1301-1303 (Baraka)

4/6 – African Postcolonial Theatre, Read: Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Worthen, pages 1313-1318 (“World Stages”, “A Global Theater?” and Postcolonial Perspectives”)      

Week Eleven:

4/11 – African Postcolonial Theatre (continued), Read: Fugard’s “Master Harold” …and the boys, Worthen, pages 1605-1620 (Fanon and Bhabha)

4/13 – African American Postcolonial Theatre, Read:   Nottage’s Ruined, Worthen, pages 1620-1627 (Gilbert and Tompkins)

Week Twelve:

4/18 –  Patriot’s Day (No Class)

4/20 – African American Postcolonial Theatre (continued), Read:   Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, Worthen, pages 1318-1342 (“Postcolonial Drama in Performance and History” and “Analyzing Postcolonial Theater and Drama”)

Performance Critique Due – Arabian Nights

Week Thirteen:

4/25 – Irish Postcolonial Theatre, Read: Friel’s Translations

4/27 – Asian Postmodern Theatre, Read: Gao Xingjian’s The Other Shore, Worthen, pages 1342-1344 (“Reading the Material Theater” and “Intercultural Performances”

Week Fourteen:

5/2 – Final Day, Review for Final Exam

Final Paper Due

5/6 – 5/13 Final Exam Week (Location and Time of Final Exam T.B.A.)