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EN2B3 Drama and Democracy

An Octoroon

Drama and Democracy: 2023-2024

Module convenor: Dr Julian Richards


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 is a core module for English and Theatre Studies second-year students and open only to them.

TERM 1  


Week 1: Introduction. Types, Stereotypes, Myths and Two Histories of Ireland. Dion Boucicault, The Colleen Bawn (1860); W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902)

Week 2: Sean O'Casey, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) and The Plough and the Stars (1926)

Week 3: Frank McGuinness, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (1986) and Sebastian Barry, The Steward of Christendom (1995)

Week 4: Anne Devlin, Ourselves Alone (1985) and Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats (1998)

Week 5: 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: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton (2015); Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown (2016)

Week 2: Eugene O'Neill, The Hairy Ape (1922); All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924)

Week 3: Citizen Kane (1941) [film], On the Waterfront (1954) [film]

Week 4: Arthur Miller, The Crucible (1953)

Week 5: Arthur Miller, The Death of a Salesman (1949); Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Week 6: Reading week

Week 7: James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie (1964); Amiri Baraka, Dutchman (1964)

Week 8: Ntozake Shange, for colored girls... (1976); August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1982)

Week 9: Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947); Tony Kushner, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (1991)

Week 10: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, An Octoroon (2014); Tarell Alvin McCraney, The Brothers Size (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.


This module is assessed by 2 x 4,000 word essays. The first assessment is due in Week 4 of Term 2 (30.01.24). The second assessment is due in Week 5 of Term 3 (21.05.24). The first assessment should consider plays of the first term (i.e., of Ireland and / or South Africa); the second assessment will consider plays from the United States. Students on this module devise their own research / writing questions in consultation with their tutor. Information about assessment for this module can be found on Tabula under EN2B3 'Coursework'. One, and only one, of these essays may be replaced by a creative project: please see the "Creative Project" tab above for more details.


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)
  • The Crucible (dir. Nicholas Hytner, 1996)
  • On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan, 1954)
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (dir. Elia Kazan, 1951)
  • 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