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Modern American Drama: O'Neill to Albee

Class at Faculty of Arts |


4.2.2023: Please note -- this seminar is now full, no new enrolments are possible.

The course will investigate the development of modern American drama in the first half of the twentieth century. We will primarily concern ourselves with some of America's canonical playwrights and with close reading of their work. C.W.E. Bigsby observes that it is only when we reach the twentieth century that American drama begins to 'test its own boundaries and possibilities.' We will explore the ways in which its key playwrights address these boundaries and possibilities in particular through recurrent themes of social and individual alienation as well as through formal experiment. The playwrights in focus this semester will include: Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, Sophie Treadwell, Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka and Edward Albee.


Week 1 (15.2) Introduction: American theatre from melodrama to modernism

Week 2 (22.2) Experiments in form – Eugene O’Neill: The Hairy Ape (1922), Strange Interlude (1928)

Week 3 (1.3) Experiments in form – Susan Glaspell: Trifles (1916), Sophie Treadwell: Machinal (1928)

Week 4 (8.3) Tragedy – Eugene O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey into Night (1941/2, pub. 1956)

Week 5 (15.3) Anti-tragedy – Thornton Wilder: Our Town (1938)

Week 6 (22.3) Harlem Renaissance session with Mgr. Ondřej Polák

Week 7 (29.3) Morality and conflict – Clifford Odets Awake and Sing (1935) Waiting for Lefty (1935), Lillian Hellman The Children’s Hour (1934)

Week 8 (5.4) Thwarted desire – Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

Week 9 (12.4) Tragedy revisited – Arthur Miller All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949)

Week 10 (19.4) Race / Politics – Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun (1957), Amiri Baraka The Dutchman (1964)

Week 11 (26.4) Absurdism – Edward Albee The Zoo Story (1959), American Dream (1960)

ESSAY PROPOSALS DUE by 28 April at 18.00

Week 12 (3.5) Discussion of research proposals

Week 13 (10.5) Conclusion

Grading Scheme

Attendance and Participation 20%

Presentation/Short response paper 20%

Proposal (10) + Final Essay (50) 60%