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EN226 Drama and Democracy

An Octoroon

Drama and Democracy: 2018/19
Module Convenor: Matthew Franks


Drama is the most public literary form - at many points in history the most immediately engaged in social change. Dublin's Abbey Theatre, Cape Town's Space Theatre, and New York's Cherry Lane Theatre are among the many sites that have played a major part in defining national identities at times of crisis and have been platforms for protest.

This module looks at major English-language plays written since the beginning of the twentieth century. We shall examine theatre in Ireland, South Africa, and the USA to investigate some of the ways writers have dramatised political, racial, class, and gender issues and have tried to foster a sense of community and intervene in history. Developments in theatrical form will be studied as vehicles for ideas. The work of designers, directors, and actors will be considered alongside the texts. At the heart of the module is the shifting relationship between theatre and social change.

This module is required of, and only open to, English and Theatre Studies second-year students.

Seminar: Tuesday 2:00 - 4:00pm, Tuesday 4:00 - 6:00pm.


TERM 1  


Week 1: Introduction

Week 2: Dion Boucicault, The Colleen Bawn (1860); W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902)

Week 3: Sean O'Casey, The Plough and the Stars (1926)

Week 4: Anne Devlin, Ourselves Alone (1985)

Week 5: Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats (1998); David Ireland, Cyprus Avenue (2016)

Week 6: Reading week

South Africa

Week 7: Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972); The Island (1973)

Week 8: Athol Fugard, Statements After an Arrest (1972); 'Master Harold'... and the Boys (1982)

Week 9: Mbongeni Ngema, Sarafina! (1985)

Week 10: Mongiwekhaya, I See You (2016)



Week 1: Eugene O'Neill, The Hairy Ape (1922); Sophie Treadwell, Machinal (1928)

Week 2: Arthur Miller, All My Sons (1947)

Week 3: Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

Week 4: Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Week 5: James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie (1964); Amiri Baraka, Dutchman (1964)

Week 6: Reading week

Week 7: Ntozake Shange, for colored girls... (1976); August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1982)

Week 8: Tony Kushner, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika (1992)

Week 9: Anne Washburn, Mr. Burns (2012); Lynn Nottage, Sweat (2015)

Week 10: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, An Octoroon (2014); Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton (2015)


It is essential for all students to bring copies of the week's readings (book, hardcopy printout, or laptop/e-reader) to seminar. Find more information here.


3,000 word essay due term 2 [25%]; 3,000 word essay due term 3 [25%]; 3 hour exam in term 3 [50%]. Find past exam papers here.

One of the assessed essays may be substituted by a creative project, which should be a response to some of the texts or issues encountered in the module. It might, for example, be a literary adaptation, a video project, a work of drama, or an exhibition. Your work should be accompanied by an essay of c.1,000 words reflecting on your aims and methods. If you wish to do this you must discuss it with your tutor by week five of term 1 (first essay) or week five of term 2 (second essay). Find more information on creative projects here.

There is also a non-assessed essay in term 1 - this is compulsory, but formative, i.e. its mark does not count towards the final module mark. You need to complete this essay to pass the module.


Recommended films/videos for context:

Term 1

  • The Plough and the Stars (dir. John Ford, 1936)
  • Michael Collins (dir. Neil Jordan, 1996)
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley (dir. Ken Loach, 2006)
  • Bloody Sunday (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2002)
  • Hunger (dir. Steve McQueen, 2008)
  • The Biko Inquest (dir. Graham Evans, Albert Finney, 1984)
  • Cry Freedom (dir. Richard Attenborough, 1987)
  • Sarafina! (dir. Darrell Roodt, 1992)
  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (dir. Justin Chadwick, 2013)

Term 2

  • Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)
  • All My Sons (dir. Irving Reis, 1948)
  • On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan, 1954)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (dir. Richard Brooks, 1958)
  • A Raisin in the Sun (dir. Daniel Petrie, 1961)
  • In the Heat of the Night (dir. Norman Jewison, 1967)
  • Dutchman (dir. Anthony Harvey, 1966)
  • Do the Right Thing (dir. Spike Lee, 1989)
  • Philadelphia (dir. Jonathan Demme, 1993)
  • Cradle Will Rock (dir. Tim Robbins, 1999)
  • Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay, 2014)
  • Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016)
  • Fences (dir. Denzel Washington, 2016)

Photograph: The National Theatre's An Octoroon (2018), Richard Davenport, The Other Richard/The Guardian