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Term 1 Essay Questions

An essay on one of the following topics should be submitted in week 11. See English Dept. Handbook for details

Your essay should be 3,000 words long, excluding the bibliography.


1. “It is no City if it takes orders from one voice” (Haimon, Antigone). Analyse the workings of political power in the work of any two playwrights studied this term.

2. “You won’t hear me asking which gods exist / or cross-examining their actions. … The wisest man living, though he brings / to bear his keenest logic, / will never break their grip on our lives” (Tiresias, The Bacchae). Examine the presentation of the relationship between gods and humans in two or more plays.

3. Consider the relationship between chorus and protagonist in two of the plays you have studied.

4. “Who is the man here, / She or I, if this crime goes unpunished?” (Creon, Antigone). Examine the representation of masculinity in two or more European dramas.

5. Examine the ways in which two or more Greek plays reflect or address the real-life exclusion of women from Athenian democracy.

6. Compare and contrast the ways any two classical Greek playwrights dramatised the myths of Troy or Thebes.

7. How culpable are tragic protagonists for their own actions? Discuss with reference to two or more tragedies.

8. "Weakening the bond between woman and manlord/ A grudge wanting blood for the spilling of childblood..." (Harrison/ Aeschylus, Agamenmon) Consider the ways in which two Greek or seventeenth-century plays interrogate the nature of the family and its relationship with the social world and/or the sacred.

9. God the Author: "This is the play I have devised for my enjoyment. And from my throne eternal will I turn my sight on the players here below." (Calderon, The Great Theatre of the World). Consider the function of metatheatricality in Kyd, Calderon and/or Moliere. Discuss two or more plays.

10. “Force maketh nature more violent in the return” (Francis Bacon). Discuss the representation of revenge in two or more plays.

11. “Happy endings are less plausible than tragic ones” (Basilio, Life is a Dream). Analyse in detail, and account for, the strategies used to close two or more of the plays studied this term.

12. Compare The Spanish Tragedy with any other English, or Spanish, Renaissance Revenge Tragedy. How different are their moral positions and their belief in the possibility of justice?

13. Messengers, servants, shepherds, maids: drama abounds with such characters. Explore their structural function and social class in two or more plays you have studied.

14. Trilogies: analyse the ways structure gives meaning to the Oresteia, or consider the effect of reading/staging Sophocles' Theban plays as a trilogy, or examine the ways modern dramatists have used the trilogy form (e.g. Edward Bond, David Hare, Rona Munro).

15. “And this man you must kiss, nay, you must kiss none but him too - and nuzzle through his beard to find his lips. And this you must submit to for threescore years, and all for a jointure” (Hellena, The Rover). Examine the presentation of marriage in two or more of the plays studied this term.

16. Analyse the use and dramatic significance of one of the following in the work of two or more playwrights studied this term: war; desire; bereavement; madness; monstrosity; the witness; the servant; the underworld; the mask.

17. Explore the director's interpretive strategies in any two modern productions (stage, film or television) of dramatists considered this term.

18. In consultation with your tutor, you may devise a creative project (accompanied by a reflective portfolio of at least 1,000 words) on a topic related to this term's sylabus. Projects must be agreed with your tutor in writing by Monday of week 6. Further guidance can be found here.

19. You may choose to devise your own essay question in consultation with your seminar tutor. If you do this, you must submit your title to the course convenor in writing by 5.00 p.m. on Monday of week 8.