Death in Modern Theatre (DRA3038)

30 credits

Modern attitudes toward death in the West have been contradictory and fraught. Historians and sociologists have observed how death in the modern world became taboo—typically not discussed but hidden away and effectively denied—though it remains a universal reality. Death was not banished from theatre, however.

Theatre is commonly associated with liveness and liveliness, but it has also been considered a deathly art—a place where death can be acted out, intuited, and maybe even rehearsed. There is arguably something about the nature of theatre—the co-presence of audience members and actors for a limited period of time, the ‘ephemerality’ of performance, the ‘ghosting’ of previous productions—that gives a special charge to the apprehension of mortality on the stage.

In this module, we will consider how and why selected Western dramatists from the late-nineteenth century onward strove to represent death in their plays, and will theorise the sociocultural, historical, and aesthetic significance of their work. We will do this by analyzing dramatic texts and production histories in conjunction with scholarship from theatre studies, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and history. Students from these and other disciplines are welcome to register.