Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Topics in Theatre History

ENGL 078.401
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the basic materials and methods of theatre history and historiography, as applied to a particular topic, organized around a specific period, national group, or aesthetic issue. The topic for Spring 1999 is "Construction and Reconstruction." Our principal assumptions are that stage architecture reflects the aesthetic conventions (acting, scenography, dramaturgy) of the theatre pieces performed on them; that auditorium architecture reflects both the social functions of theatregoing and the class relationships among theatregoers; and that both stage architecture and auditorium architecture shape the aesthetic, social, and cultural meanings of the theatre pieces as they were perceived by their original audiences. If this is so, then what happens when theatre artists consciously reconstruct the stage and auditorium architecture of previous eras? Can the aesthetics of the theatre pieces written for that architecture be recaptured on the reconstructed stage? And can the social relationships and cultural meanings of these pieces be recaptured in the reconstructed auditorium? We will look at two periods of theatrical activity--ancient Greek theatre, and the theatre of Shakespeare and his contemporaries--and then look at several theatre movements that tried to revive or reconstruct these theatres: Italian and French Neo-Classicism; Wagner at Bayreuth; the Elizabethan revival at the turn of the last century; and the current Globe reconstruction in London.