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Revision lecture. EN302: European Theatre. What’s the rubric for the exam ? Can I write about the same texts in the exam as I did in my coursework essays ? Can I write about texts we haven’t studied on the module ? Can I bring the texts into the exam ?

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revision lecture

Revision lecture

EN302: European Theatre


What’s the rubric for the exam?

  • Can I write about the same texts in the exam as I did in my coursework essays?
  • Can I write about texts we haven’t studied on the module?
  • Can I bring the texts into the exam?
  • How should I organise my time during the exam?
  • How will the exam be marked?
  • What sorts of topics will the exam cover?
  • Where can I find past papers?
what s the rubric for the exam
What’s the rubric for the exam?
  • The rubric will read as follows:
    • Time allowed: 2 hours
    • Answer TWO of the following questions.
    • Read carefully the instructions on the answer book and make sure that the particulars are entered on each book.
    • Do not substantially repeat material from assessed essays, or between sections on the exam
what s the rubric for the exam1
What’s the rubric for the exam?
  • Please note: You may be penalised up to 20 marks from your overall exam mark if it is evident that you are in violation of the rubric of the exam paper.
  • Pay attention! Some questions will ask for discussion of “two or more plays”, while others will ask you to consider “two or more dramatists”. Others will be more specific, asking you to consider, for example, only Greek plays, or only Naturalist dramas.
  • Answer the question that is asked, not the question you wanted to answer!
can i write about the same texts in the exam as i did in my coursework essays
Can I write about the same texts in the exam as I did in my coursework essays?
  • Technically, yes – but we strongly advise against it. What you cannot do is “substantially repeat material from assessed essays”. Under the pressure of exam conditions, you might not remember exactly what you wrote in your essays.
  • Bear in mind that if your overall degree mark falls on a borderline between degree classifications, your entire body of assessed work will be sent to the external examiner. An examiner might look less favourably on a student who keeps writing about the same texts!
can i write about texts we haven t studied on the module
Can I write about texts we haven’t studied on the module?
  • As long as the question allows it. Some questions specify that you should write about “plays by writers on this module” – others do not. Do bear in mind that the module is about European theatre, though!
can i bring the texts into the exam
Can I bring the texts into the exam?
  • No, you are not permitted to bring the texts into the exam. Memorising some key quotations will therefore be helpful, but committing huge chunks of the texts to memory may not be the best use of your revision time! The same goes for secondary sources.
  • Students whose first language is not English are permitted to use a bilingual dictionary. For further details, see
how should i organise my time during the exam
How should I organise my time during the exam?
  • You have two hours: that’s one hour for each question. Both questions carry an equal number of marks, so you would be ill-advised to spend longer on the first question than you do on the second!
  • Planning is everything. Spend an appropriate amount of time brainstorming ideas and working out a rough structure for your argument before you start writing the essay. You can cross through any work you do not wish to be marked.
how will the exam be marked
How will the exam be marked?
  • The exam will be marked anonymously, according to the same criteria as your essays.
  • Third class:
    • Some relevant knowledge, some accurate repetition of lecture/class notes/work. Partial or pedestrian description.
  • 2.2:
    • Conscientious work, attentive to subject matter and title/task set; a focused response to the task demonstrating good knowledge, balanced more towards the descriptive than the analytical. Good knowledge, reasonable understanding of material and task. Descriptive rather than analytical.
how will the exam be marked1
How will the exam be marked?
  • 2.1:
    • Highly competent in organisation and presentation, evidence of individual research; appropriate and intelligent use of primary and secondary material, good understanding of subject matter allied with perceptive analysis.
  • First class:
    • Very high quality work, with full understanding of the subject matter. Work that demonstrates intellectual maturity, and is perceptive with highly developed organisation. An ambitious project carried out successfully, with sophisticated handling of primary and secondary material, reasoned, analytical argument. Some degree of originality, independent research and thought.
what sorts of topics will the exam cover
What sorts of topics will the exam cover?
  • Social and/or religious ethics
  • The relationship between theatricality and life
  • Dramatic genre, especially tragedy and/or comedy
  • Naturalism and post-Naturalism
  • Political theatre and/or the politics of theatre
  • Adapting the drama of the past/intertextuality
  • Representations of gender
  • The relationship between language and the visual
  • Specific productions
  • ‘Topics’
drama and ethics
Drama and ethics
  • ‘Playwright’ was synonymous with ‘teacher’ in Ancient Greek (didaskalos).
  • In his Preface to Phèdre, Racine described classical tragedy as ‘a school in which virtue was taught not less well than in the schools of the philosophers’:
    • ‘It would be greatly to be desired that modern writings were as sound and full of useful precepts as the works of these poets. This might perhaps provide a means of reconciling to tragedy a host of people famous for their piety and their doctrine who have recently condemned it and who would no doubt pass a more favourable judgement on it if writers were as keen to edify their spectators as to amuse them, thereby complying with the real purpose of tragedy.’
  • Racine’s view of tragedy is founded upon reason, decorum and moral utility.
drama and ethics1
Drama and ethics
  • Aristotle on comedy:
    • ‘Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type, - not, however, in the full sense of the word bad; for the ludicrous is merely a subdivision of the ugly. It may be defined as a defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. Thus, for example, the comic mask is ugly and distorted, but does not cause pain.’
  • Henri Bergson (‘Laughter’, 1900):
    • ‘Always rather humiliating for the one against whom it is directed, laughter is really and truly a kind of social “ragging”. … In laughter we always find an unavowed intention to humiliate, and consequently correct our neighbour.’ (1900: 148)
  • Moral of Tartuffe:
    • ‘Learn to distinguish between virtue, / Real and feigned.’ (p. 72)
drama and ethics2
Drama and ethics
  • Molière’s ‘Preface’ to Tartuffe (23 March 1669) describes the play as ‘a skilful poem which, by agreeable lessons, reprimands men’s defects’:
    • ‘If the mission of comedy is to correct men’s vices, I fail to see why some should be privileged. In the State, this one is of an importance much more dangerous than all the others; and we have seen that the theatre is a great force for correction.’
    • ‘It is a great blow to vice to expose it to everyone’s laughter. We can easily stand being reprehended, but we cannot stand being mocked. We are willing to be wicked, but we will not be ridiculous.’
drama and agency
Drama and agency
  • Do dramatic characters have agency, or are they driven by unseen forces?
    • Conflict between gods in classical tragedy;
    • Revenge / classical gods / Christian God in The Spanish Tragedy;
    • God-as-audience and power of prophecy vs. freedom to ‘overcome the stars’ (p. 36) in Life Is A Dream;
    • Gods and guilt in Phèdre:
      • ‘Heaven lit in my heart an ill-omened fire’ (p. 213);
      • ‘I know my baseness, and do not belong / To those bold wretches who with brazen front / Can revel in their crimes unblushingly.’ (p. 184).
    • Determinism and entrapment: society, heredity, physiology and psychology in Naturalism and beyond.
drama and agency1
Drama and agency
  • Zola published his manifesto on this subject in 1881, in an essay titled ‘Naturalism on the Stage’.
  • He claimed to be reflecting the scientific and rational spirit of the age in which he lived; ‘the impulse of the century,’ he argued, ‘is toward naturalism’ (1881: 5):
    • ‘I am waiting for someone to put a man of flesh and bones on the stage, taken from reality, scientifically analyzed, and described without one lie. … I am waiting for environment to determine the characters and the characters to act according to the logic of facts combined with logic of their own disposition. … I am waiting, finally, until the development of naturalism already achieved in the novel takes over the stage, until the playwrights return to the source of science and modem arts, to the study of nature, to the anatomy of man. (1881: 6)
modern tragedy
Modern tragedy
  • Raymond Williams’ Modern Tragedy (1966) analyses some of the ways in which various modern plays might be conceived as having adapted the conventions of classical tragedy.
  • Williams defines tragedy as ‘the conflict between an individual and the forces that destroy him’ (2006: 113).
liberal tragedy
Liberal Tragedy
  • For example, Williams describes Ibsen’s drama as ‘Liberal Tragedy’:
    • ‘…the hero defies an opposing world, full of lies and compromises and dead positions, only to find, as he struggles against it, that as a man he belongs to this world, and has its destructive inheritance in himself.’ (2006: 124)
  • In this view, society is at fault: it is seen as false and oppressive, a trap from which it is impossible to escape.
liberal tragedy1
Liberal Tragedy

General Gabler’s memory

Regional location

Oppressive environment

Social class /




Tesman /

identity as ‘wife’

Judge Brack’s ‘leverage’

Threat of scandal

Intellectual boredom

Impending motherhood


private tragedy
Private Tragedy
  • Strindberg’s drama, on the other hand, belongs to a category that Williams calls ‘Private Tragedy’, a form which ‘begins with bare and unaccommodated man’:
    • ‘All primary energy is centred in this isolated creature, who desires and eats and fights alone. Society is at best an arbitrary institution, to prevent this horde of creatures destroying each other. And when these isolated persons meet, in what are called relationships, their exchanges are forms of struggle, inevitably. Tragedy, in this view, is inherent.’ (2006: 133)
    • The association between love and destruction is ‘so deep that it is not, as the liberal writers [like Ibsen] assumed, the product of a particular history: it is, rather, general and natural, in all relationships.’ (2006: 134)
private tragedy1
Private Tragedy

Environment, heredity, body, psyche, etc.

Environment, heredity, body, psyche, etc.




Environment, heredity, body, psyche, etc.

private tragedy2
Private Tragedy

Jean’s heredity, body, psyche, etc. (suggests Strindberg) are better equipped for survival… or are they?



tragic deadlock and stalemate
Tragic Deadlock and Stalemate
  • Williams describes the ‘deadlock’ of liberal tragedy:
    • The hero ‘sees what has to be done, and tries to do it. He is left to struggle alone, is misunderstood and is broken. He also breaks others, in his own fall.’ (2006: 172)
  • He argues that this deadlock, ‘familiar to us from Ibsen’, is ‘transformed by Chekhov into a new condition: that of stalemate’:
    • ‘In a deadlock, there is still effort and struggle, but no possibility of winning: the wrestler with life dies as he gives his last strength. In a stalemate, there is no possibility of movement or even the effort at movement; every willed action is self-cancelling.’ (2006: 172)
  • Williams on Three Sisters: ‘The breakdown of meaning is now so complete that even the aspiration to meaning seems comic.’ (2006: 174)
tragic deadlock and stalemate1
Tragic Deadlock and Stalemate

HAMM: We’re not beginning to… to… mean something?

CLOV: Mean something! You and I, mean something!

(Brief laugh.)

Ah that’s a good one!

HAMM: I wonder.


Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn’t he be liable to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough.

(Voice of rational being.) Ah, good, now I see what it is, yes, now I understand what they’re at! (Beckett, p. 108)

tragic deadlock and stalemate2
Tragic Deadlock and Stalemate
  • Peter Brook on Beckett:
    • ‘Beckett does not say ‘no’ with satisfaction; he forges his merciless ‘no’ out of a longing for ‘yes’ and so his despair is the negative from which the contour of its opposite can be drawn. …When we attack Beckett for pessimism it is we who are the Beckett characters trapped in a Beckett scene. When we accept Beckett’s statement as it is, then suddenly all is transformed. There is after all quite another audience, Beckett’s audience; those in every country who do not set up intellectual barriers, who do not try too hard to analyse the message. This audience laughs and cries out – and in the end celebrates with Beckett; this audience leaves his plays, his black plays, nourished and enriched, with a lighter heart, full of a strange irrational joy.’ (1990: 66)
brecht s rejection of dramatic theatre
Brecht’s rejection of ‘dramatic theatre’
  • Brecht:

We ask you expressly to discover

That what happens all the time is not natural.

For to say that something is natural

In such times of bloody confusion

Of ordained disorder, of systematic arbitrariness

Of inhuman humanity is to

Regard it as unchangeable. (The Exception and the Rule, p. 37)

  • ‘For art to be “un-political” means only to ally itself with the “ruling” group.’ (1977: 196).
brecht s rejection of dramatic theatre1
Brecht’s rejection of ‘dramatic theatre’
  • ‘The dramatic theatre’s spectator says: Yes, I have felt like that too – Just like me – It’s only natural – It’ll never change – The sufferings of this man appal me, because they are inescapable – That’s great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world – I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh.’
  • ‘The epic theatre’s spectator says: I’d never have thought it – That’s not the way – That’s extraordinary, hardly believable – It’s got to stop – The sufferings of this man appal me, because they are unnecessary – That’s great art: nothing obvious in it – I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh.’ (1977: 71)
where can i find past papers
Where can I find past papers?
  • Here!
  • Brecht, Bertolt (1965) The Messingkauf Dialogues, trans. J. Willett, Chatham: W. & J. Mackay & Co.
  • Brecht, Bertolt (1977) Brecht on Theatre, trans. J. Willett, London: Eyre Methuen
  • Brook, Peter (1990) The Empty Space, London: Penguin.
  • Strindberg, August (1888) ‘Preface to Miss Julie’, in Meyer, M. [trans.] (2000) Strindberg, Plays: One, London: Methuen Drama, pp. 91-103.
  • Williams, Raymond (2006) Modern Tragedy, Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
  • Zola, Emile (1881) ‘Naturalism on the Stage’, in Cole, T. [ed.] (2001) Playwrights on Playwriting: from Ibsen to Ionesco, New York: Cooper Square Press, pp. 5-14.