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EN107 WEEK ONE HOW TO READ A PLAY. FROM COURSE MATERIALS 'In his book State of the Nation (2007), theatre critic Michael Billington observes: "One thing.

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Presentation on theme: "EN107 WEEK ONE HOW TO READ A PLAY. FROM COURSE MATERIALS 'In his book State of the Nation (2007), theatre critic Michael Billington observes: "One thing."— Presentation transcript:


2 FROM COURSE MATERIALS 'In his book State of the Nation (2007), theatre critic Michael Billington observes: "One thing was clear by the mid-Fifties: the generational, class and cultural divisions that had been bubbling away for some time in British society were at last beginning to find their expression on the public stage". Discuss this statement with reference to two of the plays studied in the module so far.’ Central issue: how to make this reference?

3 A PLEA FOR THE BASICS The best reading address the most basic, and so fundamental, aspects of plays As a researcher, I find myself reading and re- reading basic guides to plays and to theater Continually undoing our training in how to read plays—and, indeed, how to read

4 LENSES All of these layers of meaning and interpretation are present, continuously, together Some more relevant to some texts than others The best academic work: Keep layers of meaning discrete—clarification Moves across layers, while keeping layers discrete Gives sense of work as a whole (If necessary) gives sense of work as part of tradition Focuses on a small amount of evidence, which explained in detail and with insight

5 GENRE, INTERVENTION, DETAIL Often the hardest question: “why is this a play?” Every literary work an intervention in a genre Drama often taken for granted Key to this course: individual detail vs. grand narrative We will come to the course narratives later, once we have details down A literary text should be able to surprise us Course synthesis Exam and essays will ask about the period; but you must answer these questions via small details


7 LANGUAGE GO HERE FIRST “Close reading”/”practical criticism” Polyvalence (multiple meanings) Clarification (single meanings) Nonsense (meaninglessness) Oral presence Are speeches hard to say out loud? Do the speeches make you talk in particular ways? Is there a rhythm to the words, or some other oral ordering?

8 EMBODIMENT Actors What do stage dramatis personae say about the actors’ bodies? What race/class presence is called for? Who is excluded? What do stage directions call on the actors to do What training is required of actors? What are actors meant to feel or experience? Does this script require preparation, and if so what kinds of preparation? Can this script be performed? Is it instead closet drama?

9 STRUCTURE How is the play divided? Discrete, long acts? Shorter scenes? Contextless lines of dialogue? Audience focus Presentation of information How long is the play? Text: how long does it take to read, and how difficult is it to read? Performance: how long would this play take to perform? Repetition What elements are repeated? What does repetition do?

10 PLOT Does the play possess a consistent plot? Is this plot fulfilled? Sequence Sequential Non-sequential Sequence unclear

11 ONSTAGE PERFORMANCE Ensemble Why are these characters together? What characters are on stage at any given moment? Who understands other characters’ dialogue, and who fails to? Are there multiple overlapping worlds onstage? Characters in multiple times, places, settings What juxtapositions are created?

12 OFFSTAGE, IN PERFORMANCE Mise-en-scene Where could this play be performed, and where not? What properties appear onstage? Audience What sort of audience does the play address? What do they know? What do they believe?

13 THE BOOK What kind of edition is the play? How do the words appear on the page? What other materials appear with the play? What is the effect of these materials over reading and performing the play? Why does whatever these materials say not appear in the play itself? Why was this supplement to the play necessary? Why does this play appear in this sort of edition? Who is the publisher? Where is this publisher located, and for whom does it publish? What editorial choices have been made? What is the author/estate’s relationship to this edition? Does this edition itself have a history?

14 “REALISM” Probably the most difficult term to use Is the play realistic? Term always relational Is it more realistic than specified other plays? Is it realistic in particular aspects: dialogue, setting, content Is the play not realistic? What is the play’s relationship to a specific non-theatrical reality? What elements of this reality are heightened, diminished, promoted, or hidden?


16 THE PLAY AND ITS CONTEXT* TO BE CONSIDERED SECOND *Historical context, tradition, relationship to other plays, place in anthology…

17 TYPE OF PLAY Genre and literary period How does this play compare with other plays of its type? How does it compare with other plays of this type from this period? How does it compare with its period more generally?

18 HISTORICAL CONTEXT When was the play written, and where? Was the play written for particular actors? Was the play written for a political theater company, or for a particular theatrical establishment? How do elements of this historical period appear within the play? What is the play’s attitude, or attitudes, towards its time? Popularity Was the play written for a wide or a specific audience?

19 POLITICS What do we mean by politics? Then: how does this “politics” appear within the play? Politics Conservative? Emergent or progressive? Incoherent? Some combination of all of these?

20 “THE AUTHOR” GO HERE LAST, IF AT ALL What do we mean when we say “the author”? How does the play relate to this author’s other works? How is “the author” present in the play, if at all?

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