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Theater and the Past: History as Repertoire

Recommended pre-requisites for undergrads: FREN 300 plus at least two additional 300-level French courses, as well as previous study of theater (in any language). Please feel free to contact the instructor for help in deciding whether this course is right for you.

The raging success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton spectacularly illustrates theater’s power as a mode of reflection on the past. Historical dramas have captivated theater audiences since Antiquity. Yet, in many ways, theater resists the typical demands of historical storytelling. Characterized by presence, live-ness, and repetition, the temporality of theater challenges the linearity of historical chronology. What does it mean to imagine the past as drama rather than as narrative? In this seminar, we will explore how dramatists have approached history as repertoire in a wide array of plays. We will consider how plays about historical events “replay” the past, how they navigate the representation of violence, how they color history with emotion, how they process historical trauma, and how they create resonances between disparate times and places. The heart of the course will focus on early modern France—specifically what is often labeled the “neo-classical” corpus—a rich source of both historical dramas and theoretical writing about the stakes of dramatizing history. But the course will also include study of dramatists who revolutionized theater’s approach to history in the twentieth century. The course will conclude with a brief look at the emerging field of “Performance as Research,” a collaborative mode of scholarship that brings actors and theater-makers into dialogue with academic researchers. Through the example of PaR, we will think about how theater might inspire an approach to historical scholarship (on whatever period) that transcends old historicist-versus-presentist binaries. Course reading will include dramatic works by Garnier, Hardy, Corneille, Racine, Bernard, Voltaire, Beckett, Brecht, and Mnouchkine as well as criticism and theory by Benjamin, Carlson, Hurley, Manning, Roach, Schechner, Schneider, and Taylor. A full reading list will be available upon request after October 31. Seminar discussions will take place in French.


Prerequisites: FREN 300 and one of FREN 370, FREN 371, or FREN 372.

Previously Offered:

Spring 2019