Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course aims at providing students with a solid knowledge, both general and specific, of the theatrical and dramatic production by women between the 1970s and the first decade of 2000. In particular, it intends to make them familiar with authors and texts dealing with crucial and recurring socio-political questions typical of that period. Moreover, students are given the hermeneutic and theoretical tools allowing them to develop autonomous critical opinions. In particular, the course aims at achieving the following objectives:
- knowledge of some of the most important contributions by women to the flourishing of contemporary British theatre, as well as knowledge of the historical, political, social, artistic and aesthetic context in which they were produced;
- understanding and analysis of British plays in the original language, in some cases confronting the students with both thematic and linguistic complexities (the latter owing also to the use of local and regional idioms);
- acquiring the skill of doing autonomous research on the themes of the course by resorting to both paper and digital materials in addition to those suggested by the lecturer;
- developing individual and autonomous opinions on the texts studied during the course, decoding them by means of the theoretical tools learnt in class, so as to elaborate individual theories and critical commentaries not necessarily based on the lecturer’s proposed interpretations and readings;
- ability of communicating, and sharing, in English opinions and judgments on the texts examined in class, by using the proper language for academic literary analyses, equivalent to C2 level in the Common European Framework;
- achieving learning skills that allow students to apply the knowledge and abilities acquired during the course to the interpretation of any newly encountered literary work, author or context.
Course contents summary
Post-1970 British Women Playwrights: Representing Reality, Rewriting History, and Remaking Myths
The course aims at analysing a number of contemporary British women playwrights whose work is most representative of the period between 1970s and the first decade of the second millennium. In particular, the selected authors put on stage gender issues, female questions, and/or more general, trans-gender questions, by means of a variety of styles and modes of expression: from the crudest realism of the in-yer-face theatre to the representation of the present through allegorical and symbolical strategies, as well as historical distancing and dislocation. The course consists of three parts. In the first part, a preliminary introduction will sum up the most crucial tenets of recent theatre criticism and theory, and then four texts will be examined that deal with both specifically post-feminist questions and larger social issues: the conflict between domestic duties and career ambitions in Pam Gems’s Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi (1976) and Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1982); the dreams and disillusionment of the community of Italian immigrants in contemporary Scotland in Marcella Evaristi’s Commedia (1983) and Anne di Mambro’s Tally’s Blood (1990). The second part of the course examines four plays focusing on specific historical moments and events which are revised and rewritten from a sui-generis feminist perspective or from a subaltern point of view: the Anglo-Scottish rivalries and intrigues during the Elizabethan age in Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1987); the life of mid nineteenth-century Scottish rural communities in Sue Glover’s Bondagers (1994); the Bosnian War in Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995); and the tragic page of colonialism and black slavery in Jackie Kay’s The Lamplighter (2007). The third part of the course focuses on three plays exemplifying the category of feminist revisionist rewriting, re-elaborating, in this case, some classical myths by means of narrative voices and points of view different from those of the hypotexts: Timberlake ‘s Wertenbaker The Love of the Nightingale (1989); Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love (1996); and Liz Lochhead’s Medea (2001). The discussion on female/feminist rewritings will end with a couple of classes on two examples of shakespearean adaptation and transmodalisation (of King Lear e Hamlet) produced in the 1970s by the Scottish playwright Joan Ure. Each writer, together with her works, is always contextualised from a historical, cultural and aesthetic point of view. The single texts are examined considering their structural, stylistic, thematic and ideological aspects. Students must read and prepare for their examination at least two plays for each of the three parts of the course, and one play by Joan Ure (for a total of 7 primary texts).
Primary works: Pam Gems, Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi; Caryl Churchill, Top Girls; Marcella Evaristi, Commedia; Anne di Mambro, Tally’s Blood; Liz Lochhead Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off e Medea; Sue Glover, Bondagers; Sarah Kane, Blasted e Phaedra’s Love; Jackie Kay, The Lamplighter; Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Love of the Nightingale; Joan Ure, Something in it for Ophelia e Something in it for Cordelia. Secondary works (criticism and theory): The Cambridge companion to modern British women playwrights, ed. by Elaine Aston and Janelle Reinelt (Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 2000); Dominic Shellard, British theatre since the war (New Haven: Yale university press, 1999), The Cambridge history of British theatre, vol. 3: Since 1895, ed. by Baz Kershaw (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 2004); Aleks Sierz, In-yer-face theatre: British drama today (London: Faber and Faber, 2000); Aleks Sierz, Rewriting the nation: British theatre today (London: Methuen Drama, 2011); Michael Billington, State of the Nation: British Theatre since 1945 (London: Faber and Faber, 2007). Further bibliography, on specific authors and texts, will be provided during the course and indicated in detail in the finalised syllabus – which will be available in the website of the Area di Lingue e Letterature Straniere, on LEA and in hardcopy in the photocopy office of the Area di Lingue.
The 54 hours of the course include 44 hours of lectures and 10 hours of tutorials. The lectures, held entirely in English, will discuss the selected authors and works, contextualising them in the historical and cultural period in which they emerged. These lectures will avail themselves of technological tools, such as slides and audio-visual materials, including clips and pictures of theatrical performances. All these materials will be available for students in the Web Learning platform of the University (LEA). However, lectures will also include moments of class discussions, triggered by the lecturer by means of specific questions on the issues and themes dealt with during the course. Moreover, the lecturer will also provide students with a bibliography in view of their final exam. 10 hours at the end of the course will be dedicated to tutorials in which students will be asked to propose a topic for class discussion in relation to the texts and authors previously analysed. The lecturer will provide them with a list of titles out of which they can choose the topic. Each student will give a few-minute presentation, which will offer the starting point for the essay (3500-4000 words) he/she will have to hand in at the end of the course before the oral examination.
Assessment methods and criteria
The knowledge and skills acquired during the course will be assessed through a preliminary essay (for which the lecturer will provide a list of titles), and an oral exam, both in English. These tests evaluate the following skills that the student should achieve by the end of his/her learning process:
• English language oral skills equivalent to C2 level of the Common European Framework, implying the acquisition of the proper lexis for academic literary analyses;
• Specific, in-depth knowledge of writers, texts and contexts in the literary period covered by the course;
• Ability to give individual readings of texts, re-elaborating autonomously the content of the course, do further research on the themes discussed in class, and articulate personal, motivated opinions on them.
Both the essay topics and oral exam questions must evaluate the student’s acquired knowledge and skills in re-elaborating what he/she has learnt, and proposing individual interpretations. The assessment of the essay and oral exam will be based on the following criteria:
- failure: no knowledge acquired by the student; improper language, far from the C2 level; no ability to re-elaborate the content of the course, propose individual readings, and articulate personal, motivated opinions;
- pass (18-23/30): minimum knowledge acquired by the student on the authors, texts and contexts discussed in class; on the whole proper language, close to C2 level, in spite of some flaws; the student is sufficiently able to re-elaborate the content of the course, express convincing enough opinions, and produce acceptable interpretations of the texts;
- (fairly) good (24-27/30): (fairly) good level achieved in the above mentioned skills and acquired knowledge;
- very good and excellent (28-30/30): all the above mentioned criteria are fully met by the student, who has achieved from very good to excellent results.