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Special Study: Tragedy, Catastrophe, Trauma

  • Module code: DA6007
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: Year 6
  • Credits: 30.00
  • Pre-requisites: Successful completion of Level 5 Drama or equivalent
  • Co-requisites: None

Summary

Tragedy, Catastrophe, Trauma is a special-study option module in the third year Drama field, and may be taken by both single honours and joint honours students.

The module examines how ideas about tragedy have changed, and how these changes have produced different forms of tragedy at different times. The major emphasis of the module is on approaches such as Howard Barker's Theatre of Catastrophe, where the idea of tragedy is re-worked in relation to the practitioner's understanding of contemporary social, political and cultural contexts. The main feature of the module is critically-informed experimentation with staging a tragic drama for today. The module is taught through practical workshops exploring key texts in the development of tragedy. These texts are introduced and contextualised through a series of seminars and research tasks. The module is assessed formatively through presentations in class, and summatively through an academic essay, and the performance of an extract from a Barker play. Core materials are provided through Study Space and the LRC.

This module provides students with an independent and in-depth practical and critical engagement with the origins, development and significance of different forms of tragic theatre.

Aims

This module aims to:

  • investigate how ideas about tragedy have changed, and how these changes have produced different forms of tragedy at different times
  • explore different approaches to tragedy in relation to contemporary social, political and cultural contexts
  • conduct critically-informed, practical experiments in acting key texts
  • develop the practical and academic skills needed to perform and analyse an extract from a contemporary dramatic tragedy

Learning outcomes

  • explain the development of tragedy in relation to socio-political, historical, and cultural contexts
  • understand and articulate responses to, key critical questions relating to forms of tragedy
  • account for the relationship between theories of tragedy and forms of tragedy, working with complex ideas and justifying analysis through the effective use of evidence (Key Skills: Creativity and Problem-Solving)
  • conduct critically-informed, practical experiments within the creative process of staging tragedy, and approach problems from a range of perspectives to find solutions (Key Skills: Creativity and Problem-Solving)
  • conceptualise, stylise and perform an extract from a contemporary tragedy, by imagining, creating and exploiting ideas (Key skills: Creativity and Problem-Solving)
  • use an advanced level of performance skill in presenting an extract from a contemporary tragedy

Curriculum content

  • practical exploration of key works in the canon of dramatic tragedy, including Greek, Renaissance, 20th and 21st century texts
  • investigation of the changing relationship across history between the tragic text and its cultural context
  • experiments with relevant philosophies of tragedy, such as Aristotle's concepts of form and function, Nietzsche’s concept of will, Raymond Williams's ideas on modern tragedy, and Barker's politics of desire, trauma theory
  • investigations of different principles of practice in making tragedy, for example, experiments with the Aristotelian pattern, explorations into the ritual roots of drama, the application of naturalistic techniques to tragic texts, reconfigurations of tragic conventions in realist, political, popular and post-dramatic tragedy, investigations of trauma, and Barker's catastrophism
  • exploration of the ways in which tragic plays have responded to these philosophies and concepts, such as reimagining form, function and structure, appropriating character and narrative from the canon, politicising the tragic, Barker's use of suffering
  • contemporary practitioners working with tragic forms, for example, Barker's work with The Wrestling School, Peter Hall's direction of Greek Tragedy at the National Theatre and elsewhere, the work of Steven Berkoff, the work of companies such as the RSC or Gardzienice, and with particular focus on Barker's work

Teaching and learning strategy

This module is delivered through a range of practical workshops and exercises, as well as seminars, independent rehearsals, and research. In teaching block 1, key features and principles of the genre are introduced, and these features are investigated practically by working on extracts from significant tragic texts, and through seminars. This creates the necessary contextual and critical framework through which tragedy is to be analysed, and provides students with a basis for the academic essay which is submitted in teaching block 2. Taught sessions may be distributed to meet the needs of particular topics within the module.

In teaching block 2, a more detailed, practical investigation of Howard Barker's Theatre of Catastrophe is conducted, and accompanied by seminars exploring key ideas relating to it. This creates a foundation of skills and understanding for students as they prepare for their performance assessments in weeks 10 and 11, and a basis for creative experimentation with ideas in the process of staging an extract from one of Barker's plays.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive KIS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching 8 x 2hr Lecture/seminars 16
Scheduled learning and teaching 8 x 2hr Practical workshops 16
Guided independent study Individual independent study 112
Guided independent study Group independent practical work 156
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

Summative assessment is through a portfolio of tasks; the performance of a substantial extract from a tragedy (10-15 min), which will assess the skills needed to perform tragedy, weighted at 60%, and through an academic essay of 4-5000 words (including bibliography) written in response to a selection of questions, designed to assess understanding of the tragic text and its contexts, weighted at 40%.

A range of short, formative assessments will be presented in teaching block 1, in order to provide regular and detailed feedback to students in terms of their developing understanding of tragic texts, their contexts, and the practices necessary to realise them in performance. These will include written, seminar and practical tasks appropriate to module content. This will ensure students receive regular and detailed verbal feedback in class regarding their level of progress, and targets for further development. There will be a small-scale, independent group projects to help students acclimatise to independent work. In teaching block 2, students will also be assessed formatively by observations of work in progress. Observations will look at how students are using critical ideas within the creative process of staging tragedy, and tackling theatrical problems by applying their understanding, in order to both provide feedback on the creative process, and set developmental targets.

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
Explain the development of tragedy in relation to socio-political, historical, and cultural contexts Formatively in short range preparatory writing tasks; summatively in the academic essay
Account for the relationship between theories of tragedy and forms of tragedy, working with complex ideas and justifying analysis through the effective use of evidence (Key Skills: Creativity and Problem-Solving) Formatively in short range preparatory writing tasks; summatively in the academic essay
Understand, and articulate responses to, key critical questions relating to forms of tragedy Formatively in short range preparatory writing tasks; summatively in the academic essay
Conduct critically-informed, practical experiments within the creative process of staging tragedy, and approach problems from a range of perspectives to find solutions (Key Skills: Creativity and Problem-Solving) Formatively in small group work, and in observations of process
Conceptualise, stylise and perform an extract from a contemporary tragedy, by imagining, creating and exploiting ideas (Key skills: Creativity and Problem-Solving) Formatively in small group work; summatively in final performance
Use an advanced level of performance skill in presenting an extract from a contemporary tragedy Formatively in small group work; summatively in the final performance

Breakdown of Major Categories of Assessment

Assessment Type Assessment Name Assessment Weighting
CWK Portfolio 100
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS a requirement that the major category of assessment is passed in order to achieve an overall pass for the module

Bibliography core texts

Aristotle. (350 BC). The Poetics. Available at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.mb.txt

Barker, H. (1993). Arguments for a Theatre. Manchester, Manchester University Press

Bibliography recommended reading

Barker, H. (2005) Death, the One and the Art of Theatre. Abingdon and New York, Routledge

Brown, M. (2011) Howard Barker Interviews 1980-2010: Conversations in Catastrophe. Bristol, Intellect

Callaghan, D. (1989) Women and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy. Humanities Press International

Dollimore, J. (1984). Radical Tragedy. Hemel Hempstead, Harvester

Gritzner, K. and Rabey, D. I. (eds) (2006) Theatre of Catastrophe: New Essays on Howard Barker. London, Oberon

Macintosh, F. (ed) (2005) Agamemnon in Performance 458 BC to A.D. 2004. Oxford, Oxford University Press

Nietzsche, F. (1872) The Birth of Tragedy. Available at http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/nietzsche/tragedy_all.htm

Hall, E., McIntosh, F.  and Wrigley, A. (eds) (2004) Dionysus since Sixty-Nine: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium. Oxford, Oxford University Press

Steiner, G. (1961) The Death of Tragedy. London, Faber and Faber

Williams, R. (1966) Modern Tragedy. London, Chatto and Windus

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