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EN2D8/EN3D8 European Theatre


European Theatre
Module Convenor 2023/24: Dr. Steve Purcell (Dr. Jennifer Edwards convening Term 1 Weeks 3-7)


  • To introduce a range of major plays from the European dramatic tradition, concentrating on revenge tragedy, seventeenth-century comedy, metatheatre and Naturalism, and on conflicting twentieth-century concepts of dramatic ideology and form.
  • To study plays in their historical context and as texts for performance, which involves reference to the original staging conventions and to modern productions. Where possible, plays are studied in performance -- on stage or on the screen.
  • To explore changing theatrical representations of class and gender.
  • To consider the relationship between dramatic form, intellectual debate and cultural conditions, as reflected in the plays and theatrical periods in question.
  • To introduce students to a number of theories of the drama, with reference to their practical application in playtexts and production.
  • To consider the uses dramatists have made of existing genres and traditions.
  • To develop students’ ability to analyze dramatic texts both as literature and as texts for performance.


Term 1

Weeks 1-5: Introduction, Greek tragedy and its legacy

Weeks 7-10: Tragedy and comedy in seventeenth-century theatre

Term 2

Weeks 1-5: The late nineteenth century: Naturalism and after

Weeks: 7-10: Currents and controversies in twentieth-century drama


Weekly lectures and seminars 


Term 1

Week 1 Aeschylus, The Oresteia

Week 2 Sophocles, Antigone

Week 3 Sophocles, Oedipus the King (N.B. some translations title this Oedipus or Oedipus Rex, while others use the original title, Oedipus Tyrannos)

Week 4 Euripides, The Bacchae

Week 5 Aristophanes, The Frogs

Week 6 Reading week

Week 7 Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy

Week 8 Calderón, Life is a Dream

Week 9 Molière, Tartuffe

Week 10 Racine, Phèdre

Term 2

Week 1 Ibsen, Hedda Gabler

Week 2 Chekhov, The Seagull

Week 3 Strindberg, Miss Julie

Week 4 Wedekind, Spring Awakening

Week 5 Lorca, Yerma

Week 6 Reading week

Week 7 Brecht, Life of Galileo

Week 8 Beckett, Endgame

Week 9 Churchill, The Skriker

Week 10 Reza, Art


The module is assessed by two essays. See English Dept. Undergraduate handbook for details.

Creative project: One of your assessed pieces may be a 'creative project'. This can for example be an original literary response to one of the plays on the course, a production plan, or a visual (e.g. video) project. It must be accompanied by a prose piece outlining the aims of the project and reflecting on its development. Students wishing to submit a creative project should discuss it with their tutor as early as possible and must agree a title with their seminar tutor by Monday of Week 10 of the term before the piece will be submitted.


By the end of the module you should have

  • Acquired knowledge of several major trends in European theatre and of the work of historically significant playwrights
  • Developed a sense of the expressive possibilities of different dramatic languages: for example, poetic rhetoric, naturalistic dialogue, the choric voice, subtext, mise en scene, movement
  • Gained some familiarity with theoretical debates, including Aristotle, Stanislavski and Brecht
  • Acquired skills in reading dramatic texts
  • Developed your argumentative skills in academic essays


N.B. all of the primary texts are available to read online via Drama Online. This resource is free for Warwick students.

The set text, which you should buy, for the first half of Term 1 is:

  • Richard W. Corrigan (ed.) Classical Tragedy, Greek and Roman (Applause Books)
  • [Since copies of this text may be hard to find at short notice, you may study the plays for the first half of Term 1 in other editions (though this will be more expensive). The Oresteia is available in affordable Penguin Classics, Oxford World Classics and Drama Classics editions, as is The Bacchae (also spelled Bakkhai). Antigone and Oedipus can often be purchased in the same volume, e.g. Penguin Books' The Three Theban Plays. Tony Harrison's translation of The Oresteia is available in Tony Harrison: Plays 4, Faber.]

Many plays studied later in this module are available in several editions. Recommended texts :

  • Aristophanes, Frogs and Other Plays (Penguin Classics)
  • Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (Revels Student Edition)
  • Calderón, Life is a Dream, trans. John Clifford (Drama Classics, Nick Hern Books)
  • Molière, Tartuffe (Drama Classics, NHB)
  • Racine, Iphigenia, Phaedra and Athaliah (Penguin Classics)
  • Ibsen, Three Plays (Drama Classics, NHB)
  • Strindberg, Plays One (Methuen)
  • Chekhov, Four Plays (Drama Classics, NHB)
  • Wedekind, Spring's Awakening (Applause)
  • Lorca, The House of Bernada Alba and Other Plays (Penguin)
  • Brecht, Life of Galileo, trans. John Willett (Methuen)
  • Beckett, Endgame (Faber)
  • Churchill, The Skriker (NHB)
  • Reza, Art (Faber)

Photo credit: Almeida Theatre production of The Bakkhai (2015)

All of the primary texts are available to read online via Drama Online. This resource is free for Warwick students.

Secondary Reading and Digital Resources contains links for essay research, filmed productions, and film/radio adaptations