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Essay Questions (Term 1)

Deadline: Wednesday 31st January at 12pm (Term 2, Week 4)

Please write a 2,500-word response to one of the following questions:

  1. “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” (Michael Billington, State of the Nation). Discuss how any two playwrights studied this term represent generational, class, or cultural divisions in post-war Britain.
  2. “Approaching drama from the point of view of the function of gender can expand horizons of meaning, aesthetic pleasure, and the interpretive possibilities of plays” (Michelene Wandor, Look Back in Gender). Examine the ways in which two playwrights studied this term address gender.
  3. “The model of the family, real and symbolic, is central to all of these plays [of the 1950s and 1960s]” (Michelene Wandor, Look Back in Gender). Examine the uses made of the ‘model of the family’ (whether confirmed, challenged or distorted) in two plays of your choice.
  4. “Well! This is the place” (Helen, A Taste of Honey). Analyse the presentation of stage space in any two plays.
  5. “You look at me as if I’m talking in a foreign language” (Ronnie, Chicken Soup with Barley). Consider the role of language in the work of any two playwrights studied this term.
  6. “If you press me for a definition, I’d say that what goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism” (Pinter). Discuss realism in the work of any two playwrights studied this term.
  7. ‘When I think of it… all these years… but for me… where would you be…?’ (Vladimir, Waiting for Godot). Explore the connection between at least two couples studied on the module this term.
  8. “Gesture replaces intrigue in Beckett’s theatre.” How far is this true and what might be the implications of such an artistic manoeuvre? Refer to at least two of Beckett’s plays.
  9. “McDonagh is both exploiting and exposing the Celtic myth” (Michael Billington). Discuss two or more of the plays by Friel, McDonagh, Carr or Greig in the light of this statement.
  10. Explore the theme of national identity in the work of one or more of the following playwrights: Friel, McDonagh, Carr, Greig. Please refer to at least two plays.
  11. Translations is a wonderful example of how a playwright can take a political issue and dramatise it for maximum dramatic effect.” (Robert Skloot). Compare Translations with another play by Friel, or another playwright, with this comment in mind.
  12. “It is always the popular theatre that saves the day. Through the ages it has taken many forms, and there is only on factor that they all have in common – roughness” (Peter Brook, The Empty Stage). What do you think constitutes “popular theatre”? Examine this question and the role of popular culture in at least two plays of your choice.
  13. Manus: For the benefit of the colonist?
    Owen: He’s a decent man.
    Manus: Aren't they all at some level? (Translations).
    Compare how Friel and one other playwright studied this term represent the effects of colonialism.
  14. “It’s happened again. It’s happened again” (Marianne, Portia Coughlan). Consider the functions of time and dramatic structure in two plays.
  1. “Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them” (Douglas Copeland, quoted by Dan Rebellato). Discuss the function of storytelling in two plays in the light of this observation.
  2. Compare and contrast the ways in which any two British playwrights studied this term deploy violence onstage.
  3. “Pinter’s early works were full of menace and caught that peculiar tension between everyday England and the darkness that often lurked just beneath” (Martin McDonagh). In light of this statement, explore how the term ‘comedy of menace’ connects the work of Pinter, McDonagh and/or Butterworth. You should refer to at least one play, television adaptation or film by each playwright.
  4. Analyse in detail a production of a contemporary British play that you have seen recently. How adequately did it meet the demands of the script, and did it constitute an ‘interpretation’ of it?
  5. Write the first scene of a sequel to any of the plays studied this term. The scene should be 1,500 words long and include an accompanying critical commentary of 1000 words.
  6. Devise a question of your own. To do so, please talk to your seminar tutor before the end of Term 2, Week 2.


Each essay will have the following elements:

  • A full bibliography, including publication details, showing evidence of secondary critical reading.
  • The essay will be anonymous, but will have your student number on every page.