Course Exam—Engl 303

A History of Drama Part 1: Early Stages

ENGL 303 (A History of Drama Part 1: Early Stages) is a three-credit course that traces the history of Western theatre from its Greek origins to the beginning of the eighteenth century in England and France, with specific references to the plays in a core anthology, The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama.  This course has two introductory English courses as its prerequisites, which include ENGL 211 (Prose Forms) and ENGL 212 (Poetry and Plays), or students can use the equivalent first year English courses.  This course has a Challenge for Credit open if students are interested, but ENGL 303 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for ENGL 300.

A History of Drama Part 1: Early Stages is made up of three acts (The Golden Age: Tragedy and Comedy in Athens; Medieval Roots and Renaissance Flowerings: Mysteries and Moralities, Tragedy and Tragicomedy; and Sentiment and Wit: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Comedy and Tragedy), and requires a scene analysis, weighing ten percent; a critical review worth twenty percent; an essay proposal weighing five percent; an essay worth twenty five percent, and a final examination for the remaining forty percent.

The final exam for this course must be taken online with an Athabasca University-approved exam invigilator at an approved invigilation center.  To receive credit for ENGL 303, students must achieve a minimum grade of fifty percent on all the assignments and final exam and a overall grade of at least fifty percent for the entire course.

Dr. Mark McCutcheon provides a brief introduction, stating “I am Professor of Literary Studies in Athabasca U’s Centre for Humanities.  I teach literature, drama, and popular culture.  I completed my PhD at the University of Guelph’s School of English and Theatre Studies; my dissertation was about rave culture and my studies were supervised by Canadian theatre scholar Dr. Alan Filewod.”

He has been working at Athabasca University since 2009 and has been the course coordinator for ENGL 303 since starting.  He explains, “These courses were initially developed and coordinated by Dr. Anne Nothof (who’s since retired and is now Professor Emerita).  Like Dr. Nothof before me, I coordinate these courses, and I also tutor them.”

Alongside ENGL 303, Dr. McCutcheon coordinates and tutors ENGL 304 (A History of Drama Part II: Modernist Theatre), and coordinates the following courses: ENGL 373 (Literature and Film), ENGL 431 (Canadian Drama), ENGL 395 (The 19th Century British Novel), though students should be aware that they are both currently closed temporarily as he is revising them.  He also teaches several graduate courses for the MA program, which includes MAIS 606 (Academic Writing for Grad Students), LTST 612 (Gothic Transformations of the 19th – Century Novel), and LTST (Literature and Culture of the Black Atlantic).

When asked to describe ENGL 303 to students, Dr.  McCutcheon states “History of World Drama I (ENGL 303) surveys major plays that belong to the canon of world drama.  The course is organized, like a play, into three Acts: the first Act looks at major plays from ancient Greece (some of which, like Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, are still performed today); the second Act explores the religious theatre and morality plays of the medieval period; and the third Act tours early modern theatre as represented by selected works of Shakespeare, Moliére and Racine.  (We do not expect students to know ancient Greek or even French, for that matter; we teach all works that were not originally written in English in modern English translations.)”

He also provides some insight to the structure of the course: “History of World Drama is a senior-level English course because it proceeds on the premise that the student in the course has prior learning in the foundations of English literature studies.  Such learning typically encompasses a general knowledge of English literary history and major works, but more importantly it also includes training in the main method of literary studies, close reading: close reading means analyzing and interpreting a text as a specific and deliberate composition.  That is, close reading means talking about the writing: not so much what a text says (i.e.  what happens in its story), but rather how a text says what it says (its use of images, tropes; its structure; its style, etc.).”

He continues, “So, building on those presumed foundations, a student in this course gets more in-depth learning in a particular domain of literary history (the canon of world drama) and more in-depth practice in literary studies methods.  The course assignments, then, involve the close reading of specific scenes or passages, the reviewing of theatrical productions of certain plays, and comparisons among two or more assigned plays.”

As for what kind of work ethic students will have to have to be successful in this course, he explains “To succeed in this course, the student has to be prepared to do a lot of reading – not that that’s unusual for university study.  But here you get to read some of the world’s best-told stories — reading works of great literature is more fun than reading textbooks, I say.  And the student in this course has to be prepared to look closely at, and think interpretively about, the specific character and form of the writing they are reading here.  Discussing what characters do and what events happen in a given play will not get you far here, this course is not about testing just comprehension – you need to engage critically with the writing, the way the story’s told and staged.

Dr. McCutcheon explains what he finds his the most challenging aspect of ENGL 303 to students, stating “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I find the most challenging aspect of this course – as with any English literature course – is helping students to focus on the writing in a text as the proper object of their analysis and argument.  Which is why I am always recommending students go and read Prof Jack Lynch’s short, excellent online guide, “Getting an A on an English paper.” It’s online, it’s free, and it’s just about the clearest explanation I have yet found about what English professors expect of students’ work.

Whether ENGL 303 is a degree or program of yours, or the topics or readings that are discussed above are of interest to you, this course will have you analyzing individual plays as theatre and as literature!

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