Dramatic Literature and Theory Seminar: From Ibsen to the Avant-Garde

Dramatic Literature and Theory Seminar
From Ibsen to the Avant-Garde


Andrew Bretz
Skype ID: andrewbretz
Skype Office Hours: TBA
Twitter: @AndrewBretz001



A Doll’s House – Henrick Ibsen 1879

Miss Julie – August Strindberg 1888

Hedda Gabler – Henrick Ibsen 1891

Lady Windermere’s Fan – Oscar Wilde 1892

Three Sisters – Anton Chekhov 1901


Recommended Texts:

MLA Handbook. (7th Edition)

Undergraduate Calendar Description:

This seminar course investigates an area of dramatic literature. The course will develop students’ research skills and writing and speaking about scholarly materials in the discipline.  Variable course content.

Description of Course:

This course will be looking at late nineteenth century and early twentieth century European drama, beginning with Ibsen and Strindberg and ending with Chekhov and Shaw.  This period of theatre is in many ways responsible for our contemporary expectations regarding naturalism and realism in drama, as playwrights Chekhov and theorists like Stanislavski emphasized the internal life of characters in a way that had not been done previous.  The stage became a place to articulate the construction of the real.  At the same time as naturalism and realism were movements on stage, off stage there were titanic changes in European society playing out as the categories of gender and class came under increased pressure from movements like socialism and the suffragettes (among others).  This course will be looking into the discourse between European culture and these plays.  That is, this course will look at how these plays speak back to European culture – its expectations regarding gender, the construction of the real, the political world – and how European culture speaks back to the plays.  The particular lens through which this discursive model will be explained is through the category of gender, but other lenses – such as economic and political movements, the rise of the psychological as a category, the concept of the real – will be addressed and students are encouraged to explore these categories in their assignments.


By the end of this course, students will be able to:

1) Demonstrate understanding of the historical construction of gender in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

2) Articulate a complex argument regarding gender and performance in the period in the form of a research paper.

3) Present a familiarity with the major schools of European theatre in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

4) Demonstrate familiarity with the performance conditions of the time, including changes in performance styles; theatrical design; publication regimes;

5) Demonstrate analytical, leadership and oral presentation skills through a short (10-15 minute) research presentation and following group discussion.

Outline of Course:

N.B. – Please have the entire play read by the first day we take up the play in class.

Readings Date, Lecture and Presentation Topic Date, Lecture and Presentation Topic
  January 8


January 10
A Doll’s House Jan 15

Gender and Politics in A Doll’s House

Jan 17

Performance of A Doll’s House

A Doll’s House Jan 22

Scene Study from A Doll’s House

Jan 24

Ibsen’s Naturalism and A Doll’s House

Miss Julie Jan 29

Gender and Politics in Miss Julie

Jan 31

Performance of Miss Julie

Miss Julie February 5

Scene Study from Miss Julie

February 7

Strindberg’s Naturalism and Miss Julie

Hedda Gabler Feb 12

Gender and Politics in Hedda Gabler

Feb 14

Performance of Hedda Gabler

  Feb 19


Feb 22


Hedda Gabler Feb 26

Scene Study from Hedda Gabler

Feb 28

Ibsen’s Combination of Symbolism and Naturalism in Hedda Gabler

Three Sisters March 5

Gender and Politics in Three Sisters

March 7

Performance and Three Sisters

Three Sisters

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Mar 12

Scene Study from Three Sisters

Mar 14

Gender and Politics in Lady Windermere’s Fan

Lady Windermere’s Fan Mar 19

Performance and Lady Windermere’s Fan

Mar 21

Scene Study from Lady Windermere’s Fan

Final Text Mar 26


Mar 28

Performance and Final Text

Final Text April 2

Scene Study from Final Text

April 4



Description of Examinations and Major Assignments:

The final grade will be weighted as follows:

Quiz: In the first week, each student will be assigned two texts to read by January 15. One will be A Doll’s House (obviously) and one will be drawn from one of the other four texts of the course.  The purpose of this is to enrich the conversation from the very start by giving students a greater depth and breadth of knowledge in the course material.  On January 15, there will be a short comprehension quiz, tailored to the assigned text that the student read for that date.


Short Writing Assignment:  This assignment will be approximately 5-6 pages in length.   In the short writing assignment, you are asked to provide a critical response to the play, drawing on the theoretical positions and historical knowledge developed and presented in class.  You will be expected to develop a thesis and a short argument.  Please avoid plot summary.  The short writing assignments are due the first day that we take up a given play.  Thus, if you are writing, for example, on Miss Julie, you will have to hand it in by 23:59 on January 29, 2013, for Three Sisters, March 5, 2013.  You must sign up for which play you wish to write on.  There will only be so many response papers accepted per play, in order to ensure that you can get them back in a reasonable time, with commentary.  You may write on the same play as you were assigned to read in the first week, in addition to A Doll’s House (Please see “Quiz”). Please use the sign-up sheets on the course website to inform me as to what date you will be handing in your response paper.  Late papers will be accepted in accordance with the late policy.  For obvious reasons, no one will be able to write an assignment on A Doll’s House.  All papers must be formatted in accordance with MLA guidelines.


Research Outline: The Research Outline is tied to the research essay and is intended to get students thinking about topics and evidence.  This will also, hopefully, enrich conversation by increasing the depth of every student’s knowledge.  Students will be expected to provide:

  • A topic of research (e.g. How technological advances changed the way theatre was done in the late 1800s); (/1)
  • A 1-2 page annotated bibliography, in MLA format; (/5)
  • A reflective paragraph (This might include ruminations on where the evidence is leading you, if your previously held assumptions are being reinforced/overturned, if you think this research will be useful for your essay or presentation, what you intend to do next in terms of your research, etc.) (/4)

Research Outlines are due February 14, 2013.


Essay: The research essay will be approximately 10-12 pages long, on a topic of the student’s choosing.  Students are strongly encouraged to consult with the professor before finalizing a topic and thesis. Students who wish to write on the same play as they were assigned to read in addition to A Doll’s House in the first week of class need to petition to do so.  It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that I have your paper.  Those who wish their papers returned to them must indicate so on their papers and make arrangements with me to get the paper back to them prior to handing in their paper.  All papers must be formatted in accordance with MLA guidelines. Essays are due the final day of class.


Presentation: The Presentation will comprise three parts: the presentation, leading group discussion and the written component.  Students will be expected to do research and synthesize the results of their research in an oral presentation.  I will be looking for accuracy, analytical rigor, and rhetorical ability.  Imagination, as always, is a plus. Students may present on the same topic/play as their final paper.  In this case, the presentation should take the form of a consideration of how the topic at hand will be addressed in the student’s final paper.

  1. Presentation: Students will choose a topic for presentation and present on that topic on the day assigned (see below). When more than one student wishes to present on a given day, you will comprise a group and will be expected to present as a group. All presentations, whether individual or group, are to be 10-15 minutes in length.  Individuals in a group will be marked for their individual contribution, not as a group.
  2. Leading Group Discussion: Presenting students will be expected to lead the class in group discussion of the text and the issue at hand for that day. (Some things you might consider would be: How to format the discussion/presentation – as a debate, as a traditional presentation, or something else? How to divide the class to effectively facilitate discussion?  What questions you are planning on asking of the class?)
  3. Written Component: Every individual student will hand in a 2 page summary of their presentation/part of the presentation. In addition to the 2 page summary, students should also hand in a works cited in MLA format. This will be an integral part of the assessment process, so failure to hand in a written summary will result in failure of the presentation assignment.  The written component MUST be in MLA format.

Presentation/Group Discussion: /10

Written Component: /10

Whole Assignment: /20

ParticipationClass Participation grade is at the complete discretion of the instructor. The participation grade is composed of two parts: i) The Final Text; ii) General Participation.

The Final Text – The class will be asked to choose by ballot a final play that is not presently on the syllabus to study in the last few classes of the term.  On the website component for this course are several discussion boards, one for each play that is not already on the syllabus. Leading up to the vote, students will be expected to participate in the discussions both for and against the class studying any given play.

For this assignment you may choose from the following four plays:

      • Ubu Roi – Alfred Jarry 1896
  • Saint Joan – George Bernard Shaw 1923
  • Six Characters in Search of an Author – Luigi Pirandello 1921
  • Journey’s End – R. C. Sherriff 1928


The object of this exercise is to provide a persuasive argument in favour of play that you want us to study in the final week of class.  Some research may be required to make a fully persuasive argument, or to dissuade the class away from someone else’s argument.

The votes will be submitted through electronic ballot (i.e. email) directly to me by 23:59 February 3, 2013.  Each email must appear with the subject line: ACTIVE LEARNING ASSIGNMENT BALLOT.  I will tabulate the winner and announce the play we will study in the final week of classes on February 5, 2013.

This portion of participation graded as follows:

Argumentation     /4

Ballot                     /1


General Participation – A student receiving a 10 or 9 comes to class prepared; contributes readily to the conversation but doesn’t dominate it: makes thoughtful contributions that advance the conversation; shows interest in and respect for others’ views; participates actively in small groups.  For a further breakdown on the Class Participation Rubric, please look at the course website.

This portion of participation is out of ten (10).


Grade Distribution:

Quiz:                                                      5%
Short Writing Assignment: 15%
Research Outline:                                                10%
Essay:                                                    35%
Presentation:                                        20%
Class Participation:                             15%
Total                                                      100%

Grammar & Style (Short Writing Assignment):

As a further dimension to the short writing assignment, each week there will be a different grammatical error whose presence in a paper will result in marks taken off of the assignment.  Please find below a list of the errors with a description of each, collated by week and text.  Any paper including an instance of the “Error of the Week” will receive a penalty of five (5) marks of the total fifteen (15) available marks.

Family of Error Due Date Response Paper For Error Description
Punctuation Jan 29 Miss Julie Comma Errors There are multiple forms of comma errors other than the comma splice.  This week avoid the following:

1. Separating a verb or preposition from its object with a comma. e.g. “Strindberg travelled, from Norway to Sweden.”

2. Placing a comma after a coordinating conjunction followed by an independent clause. e.g.  “Strindberg wrote Miss Julie but, he didn’t write Hamlet.”

3. Placing a comma before and after a restrictive element (a clause that changes a sentence’s basic meaning).  e.g. “The works, of Strindberg, are more studied than those of Shaw.”

Feb 12 Hedda Gabler Comma Splice A comma splice is an instance where two independent clauses are joined by a comma.  For instance, “Ibsen’s works are entertaining, they are full of engaging ideas” contains a comma splice.  The remedy? One can separate the clauses into independent sentences, subordinate one clause to the other, add an appropriate conjunction, replace the comma with a semicolon.
Mar 5 Three Sisters Quotation Marks Quotation marks open and close quotations.  Sometimes students use them to give particular emphasis to certain words or concepts.  For instance, “Ibsen was the ‘great’ writer of his day.”  Who is saying “great”?
Mar 14 Lady Windermere’s Fan Grievous Spelling Error This falls into two categories: common errors and specialist errors.  Common errors that are liable to result in an instant fail is the misuse of/misspelling of to/too/two or their/there.  If a student means “two” and writes “tew,” that is a failure.  Certain words in plays will not be recognized by your word processor, which can occasionally result in hilarity.  For example, “Capulet” may be autocorrected to “copulate.” MLA Handbook (7th ed) 3.1
Words, Words, Words Mar 26 Final Text Agreement A plural subject takes a plural verb, a singular subject takes a singular verb. Nouns and pronouns must agree with each other and themselves.



An assignment is considered “late” if the student and I have not agreed beforehand to an alternate deadline to the one noted above.  Students handing in essays late will be docked 5% per calendar day until the essay is handed in or until 10 calendar days have passed, at which time the assignment will receive 0%.  For further information, see “When You Cannot Meet a Course Requirement.”

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