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EN2B3 Drama and Democracy

TUE - 1:00 - 3:00
TUE - 4:00 -6:00

An Octoroon

Drama and Democracy: 2020-2021

Module convenor: Professor Carol Chillington Rutter


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), Janet Suzman, The Free State: A South African response to Chekov's The Cherry Orchard (2000)

Week 10: Mongiwekhaya, I See You (2016)



Week 1: Eugene O'Neill, The Hairy Ape (1922) and All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924)

Week 2: Arthur Miller, The Death of a Salesman (1949) and Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Week 3: Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

Week 4: Arthur Miller, The Crucible (1953)

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 (1991) and Tarell Alvin McCraney, The Brothers Size (2015)

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.


TBA: watch this space over the summer


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