THETR 461:

Play Analysis


Class meets Tuesday/ Thursday


Room: Modern Theatre

Final Exam:

Thursday 02:00PM - 04:30PM,

Room: Modern Theatre  

*  *  *  *  *

Professor Richard W. Chambers

Office: Sawyer 1228

Office Hours: By Appointment



Phone: 617-305-1722 (better to email me)

Credits: 4   Zoom ID#: 3738793171

Mode: On Campus Only  

Course Prerequisites: None


Course Description

This seminar course examines classic and modern plays using a variety of techniques to analyze and understand them. Students read the texts out loud in class, examining the characters, action, objectives, and philosophical and historical contexts. The goal is to get closer to the original intentions of the author and determine not only the basic theme and character relationships, but the kind of mind that could create such a play. In this way, we will strive to understand a play's relevance and effect in a current context.

Class discussions will explore how these concepts translate to production, as well as what they imply as artistic responses to a modern and post-modern world. Analysis of the plays will include explorations of theme, character, plot, symbolism, structure, metaphor, and the world of the play.

There will be written papers, class presentations, and a final paper that synthesizes the plays we have studied.  

Class Structure

It is the conviction of your professor that theatre is a vital and engaging art form that can only be fully known and appreciated when its literature is produced on stage and experienced as a whole greater than the sum of its parts. With this in mind, class projects will focus on various forms of analysis that are ultimately applicable to performance. Where possible, films of the scrips will be viewed, compared, and discussed.

Writing and discussion are major components of the class. The development of critical thinking, analytical reading and writing, reading aloud, and informed discussion is stressed. To that end, it is essential that students be well prepared for in-class discussions and that they participate actively in the readings. This is not a lecture course—without active, prepared, student-driven discussion, it's going to be a long semester!

A Note on Sensitive Language (With thanks to Prof. Quentin Miller)

It is impossible to study African American literature without encountering the racial slur we have come to call “the n-word.”  You will encounter its liberal use in our James Baldwin readings and in Fences. In class we may read passages aloud that contain it. It is a charged word and, in certain contexts, it can elicit tumultuous feelings.  If you are not comfortable repeating the word as it is written in a text, I respect that decision. If you are called on to read aloud, you can feel free to skip over it (and you may also write a censored version in your formal essays by substituting asterisks for some of the letters).  When quoting from the literature we study during class discussions, though, I have decided not to censor the word as it is written in the text as I believe it is there for a specific rhetorical reason: the authors who wrote this literature wanted us to confront this controversial word, and I will read the text in class verbatim.

I have not arrived at this decision lightly: I am aware of some cases where the use of this word in a classroom (even in the context of quoting a work) has caused anxiety for those who are not expecting it.  I believe that censoring or replacing the word gives it additional power. However, I realize the danger of not confronting the word, which is related to the danger of not confronting all the pain and history behind it. We will be visited by a guest speaker this semester who will help us to, among other things, understand the history of the word, the harm behind the words and why it hurts, explore why Black people use the word, and explore why artist of color use the word but why it gets “hot” when a non-Black artist uses it. I am always available to discuss any concerns you may have.