Sample Syllabus

Dramatic Theory & Criticism (DR/EH 331)

Dr. Hugh K. Long                   

Course Description:

Dramatic Theory and Criticism surveys the range of theatre and performance theories from ancient time to the present, as well as critical methodologies applicable to theatre, drama and performance (e.g. Feminism, Semiotics, Materialism, Post Colonialism, etc.).  Considerable time will be devoted to the development of excellent writing skills, including organization and editing of material, effective argumentation, and the conventions of research and citation standard for the discipline

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

  • More effectively communicate in writing, particularly as they relate to performance studies, including:
    • Identification of a subject and formulation of a thesis
    • Development and organization of ideas to support a position
    • Command of standard writing conventions and application of MLA format and documentation
  • Understand major historical and contemporary critical and aesthetic theories as they pertain to dramatic literature and performance.
  • Effectively analyze theatre texts and performances through functional knowledge of playwriting techniques, dramaturgy, and performance.
  • Distinguish among multiple modes of inquiry through analysis and practical applications.
  • Test ideas in light of established scholarship and research.
  • More effectively engage in independent inquiry and research.
  • Examine and evaluate non-traditional/experimental dramatic/performance forms.

 Course Requirements:


  • Gerould, Daniel. Theatre, Theory, Theatre
  • Fortier, Mark. Theory/Theatre, Third Edition 
  • Other texts will be distributed throughout the semester and made available as handouts or through electronic means.


  • Theory Paper #1 = 20 points: 3 pages for Writing Workshop (9/21) + re-write of 6 pages (9/28)
  • Theory Paper #2 = 20 points: 3 pages for Writing Workshop (10/26) + re-write of 6 pages (11/2)
  • Final Paper = 30 points: 5 pages for Writing Workshop (11/23) + re-write of 10 pages (Day of Final Exam)

Performance Critique:

  • 2 @ 5 points = 10 points: All students are required two live theatrical productions assigned by the instructor. After viewing a show, students will be required to write a 3 page critique of each production. Specific instructions and format suggestions will be posted on Blackboard.
  • If a student is unable to view a specified production, it is then the student’s responsibility to contact the professor, explain their unique situation and then research and locate an alternative Theatre production to attend and critique. Professor approval is required for any, and all, alternate productions.

Oral Presentation:

  • 1 @ 20 points = 20 points:  In small groups of 1-2, students will research and present a 20 minute interactive PowerPoint presentation on a selected play, playwright, or theatre company related to the assigned theory 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 visual presentation to their instructor.  Presentations will begin in Week Four.

Attendance Policy:

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

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

Class Schedule and Assignments:

Unit One: Ancient Theory

Week One:

Course introduction, What is Theatre? What is Theory? Plato and The Republic

  • Read:    Excerpts from Plato’s The Republic (Handout)

Week Two:

Aristotle and Tragedy, & Roman Theory

  • Read:    Gerould, “Introduction: The Politics of Theatre Theory,” p 11-42, “Aristotle: The Poetics,” p 43-67, “Horace: The Arts of Poetry,” p 68-83
  • Sophocles’ Electra: Available online:

Week Three:

Japanese Theory

  • Read:    Gerould, “Zeami: On the Art of the Nō Drama,” p 96-107, Kan’ami Kiyotsugu’s Matsukaze (handout), William Butler Yeats’ At the Hawk’s Well (handout)

Week Four:

Semiotics and Phenomenology

  • Read:    Fortier, Introduction & Chapter 1, pages 1-45, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (handout)

Week Five:

Writing Workshop

  • Due:      Paper #1, 3 pages for workshop with class

Unit Two: The Humanists

Week Six:

The Rediscovery of Aristotle & the Birth of Mixed Forms

  • Read:    Julius Caesar Scaliger, “from Poetices libri septem” (Handout), Gerould, “Lodovico Castelvetro: The Poetics of Aristotle,” p 108-116, “Giambattista Guarini: The Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry,” p 128-134
  • Due:      1st Oral Presentation – The Italian Renaissance, Paper #1, final re-write 

Week Seven:

The Rise of Commercial Theatre

  • Read:    Gerould, “Felix Lope de Vega: The New Arts of Writing Plays,” p 135-146, Lope de Vega’s El caballero de Olmedo (The Knight of Olmedo) (Handout)
  • Due:      2nd Oral Presentation – The Spanish Golden Age

Week Eight:

French Neoclassicism and the Quarrel of the Ancients vs. Early Moderns

  • Read:    Gerould, “Pierre Corneille: Of the Three Unities of Action Time, and Place,” p 153-167, “Fançois Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac: The Whole Art of the Stage,” p 146-153, Georges de Scudéry, “Observations on Le Cid” (Handout), Jean Chapelin “The Opinion of the French Academy concerning Le Cid” (Handout), Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid (Handout)
  • Due:      3rd Oral Presentation – The Le Cid controversy

Week Nine:

Feminist and Gender Theory

  • Read:    Fortier, Chapter 2, pages 65-66, 85-108, Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine (Handout)

Week Ten:

Writing Workshop

  • Due:      Paper #2, 3 pages for workshop with class

Unit Three: Modern & Contemporary Theory

Week Eleven:

The Birth of Modernism

  • Read:    Gerould, “Friedrich Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy,” p 336-351, -and- “Emile Zola: Preface to Thérèse Raquin and Naturalism in the Theatre,” p 351-367, Fortier, “Psychoanalytic Theory,” p 67-84, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (Handout)
  • Due:      4th Oral Presentation – Sigmund Freud, Paper #2, final re-write

Week Twelve:

Marxism and Epic Theatre

  • Read:    Gerould, “Antonin Artaud: The Theatre and Its Double,” p 433-443, -and- “Bertolt Brecht: The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre and Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting,” p 444-461, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (Handout)

Week Thirteen:

Post-Modernism & Post-Colonialism

  • Read:    Fortier, Chapter 3, pages 144-184, Gerould, “Wole Soyinka: Drama and the African World-view,” p 474-482, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (Handout)

Week Fourteen:

Writing Workshop

  • Due:      Final Paper, 5 pages for workshop with class

Week Fifteen: