The Playwright's Bible
(Subtitled: The Devil Wears Period-Appropriate Costume)
The history of English drama as we know it begins in the Middle Ages, when members of city guilds performed elaborate re-enactments of Biblical stories. Although most modern theatergoing experiences no longer involve returning three days in a row in order to watch a play from beginning to end, playwrights do still continue to draw from Christian culture for their material. In this course, students will explore plays, movies, and musicals that deal with Biblical and Bible-inspired content.
From the last drinking song of Noah's Wife in the medieval play of Noah's Flood to the entrance of Judas over a restless guitar riff in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, works such as Oscar Wilde's Salome (1894), George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (1924), and Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema, and Barney Simon's Woza Albert! (1981) are memorable testaments to the imaginative potential of Biblical narrative. They ask important questions about the relationship between religion, drama, and society. How does each text understand and interpret Biblical accounts? What does religion come to stand for in differing historical climates: a tool of political oppression, resistance to oppression, or both at once? How has religious drama incited fear, anxiety, and controversy as well as devotion-- and how do we respond to it now? No previous knowledge of the Bible or the subject of religious drama is necessary. In addition to weekly assignments, students will also stage a brief in-class production of a text we have read (for those who feel uncomfortable with performing, offstage roles will also be available).
The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that the discipline of literary studies currently demands, including: working with primary sources, reviewing the critical literature, using online databases, and exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history. Several interim assignments will be designed to enable and culminate in a final project: either a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages or a creative project. In either case, the final project must emerge out of each student's intensive, independent research agenda. Students are welcome to cast their net widely in choosing the direction of their final project: sample research topics include dramatic performances in other religious traditions; polemical rhetoric surrounding religious drama; and costumes, musical accompaniments, or stage machinery and special effects.