LIT180 : Studying Theatre: A History of Dramatic Texts in Performance

Convenor(s): Professor Stephen Nicholson


Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course Convenor.

General Information

This module introduces you to key dramatic texts from the Renaissance to the present. Each week you will study a particular play, and the historical, ideological and social contexts that informed its composition, its first performances, and its theatrical afterlife. We will talk about the play in performance, and the processes that underlie its production - about acting, directing, design and economics – with the emphasis on theatre as a complex and practical discipline. In recent years the course texts have included work by playwrights such as Sophocles, John Vanbrugh, William Shakespeare, Alfred Jarry, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Caryl Churchill and Debbie Tucker Green. The aim is to develop your understanding of a range of seminal Western theatre texts and further your ability to analyse the connections between different styles and forms of theatre and the societies out of which they have emerged. This relationship is something you will return to throughout your degree as we examine how theatre and performance represent, critique and illuminate the society that produces them.


This is a chronological course which focuses on texts from different periods of theatre history. It is taught through weekly lectures and small group seminars. Each week, the Monday lecture introduces you to key aspects of the relevant period and genre, as well as to the play and to other texts of the time. In the seminars which follow, you will then analyse the text itself in more detail, and also think about its theatricality. As preparation for a seminar you might be asked not only to think about the play, but to find out about a particular production; to consider the set or costumes you would choose if you were designing a production of it for Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, or even how you might direct the actors in a particular speech or scene. The course thus allows you to imagine the plays from creative as well as analytical perspectives, inviting you to think about them not only in their historical contexts but also as plays for today. Crucially, we ask not only 'What did this play say to its original audiences?', but also 'Why (and how) might we want to stage it in 2016?'


You will be assessed through two pieces of written work, each of 2,000 words or equivalent, one submitted approximately mid-way through the module and the other at the end. You will be offered a variety of questions to choose from, giving you the opportunity to select which play(s) you write about, and from what perspective(s). Some will require a conventional, analytical essay, but you may also be invited to design a stage set, reflect on an actor’s approach to a role, say how you would direct a particular scene for a specific theatre or audience, or write your own short play in response to one you have studied or by drawing on its approach and techniques. Inviting you to develop your own thoughts about the plays, informed by rigorous performance, historical and political analysis, is the driving force of this module, and the primary focus of the assessment.

Contact Details

Professor Stephen Nicholson

Information last changed: Friday 26th of August 2016 :: 03:47:15 PM (BST)


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK