Drama / Performance Studies b

Koichi MURANUSHI Professor

Department: Graduate School of Languages and Cultures

Class Time: 2012 Fall Friday
Recommended for: Students of Graduate School of Languages and Cultures

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  1. It is sometimes argued that our attitudes towards fiction were based on the modern prose narrative. In 1970s Suzuki Tadashi and Yujiro Nakamura deplored the situation in their Dramatic Language (Gekiteki Gengo), saying that "[I]n post-Meiji Japan . . . the prose narrative's privileged position became established, and at the same time poetry and drama were consigned to an increasingly narrow space." Even today these words seem to hold true. In comparison to the modern prose narrative, drama is much more than a written text. It also includes the actors with their bodies, the acting/performance, the audience with their consciousness and physical sensations, and the stage including other physical conditions of the theater. Thus drama is a composite art. Historically speaking, prior to the introduction of modern media, drama functioned as an important social media, entertainment, and communal ceremony. Regrettably many plays of most important modern dramatists, Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen for instance, are not available to general readers. Despite and because of these difficulties, I hope to increase the number of drama fans and share its fascination and importance. I also want to add this: because a single play is usually brief, it is appropriate as a training ground to consider both overall structure and details. It is small in size, but full of possibilities for appreciation from many viewpoints.
  2. In class students can build up their ability to read academic books or articles written in English. For most of the students it is still difficult, for example, to follow the author's argument. Occasionally I see students who boast that there is no previous research on their subject while simultaneously neglecting to research in English. They limit themselves to sources published in Japanese or their native language. If they just take a look at English sources, they will soon find many theories and approaches that are not easily available elsewhere.

Key Features

  1. Looking at my students discussing in class, I often notice that they are rather rigid in their way of thinking. They tend to consider a subject without referring to the entire body of knowledge they have acquired so far. I think that it might be due to the compartmentalization of academic knowledge. This was not the case with the Western Early Modern period. (By the way, early modern British culture is necessary background for my research because my subject of study has been Shakespeare.) In those days, people's knowledge had not yet been compartmentalized; for example, into literature, religion, ethics, natural sciences, and politics. They all appeared mixed in texts. From this perspective, I often urge students to bring their experiences and intellectual interests into class, however alien they may seem to be to the subject under discussion. Though students are taking other classes and absorbing many branches of knowledge, they seem to be indifferent to applying their newly-acquired knowledge to the text we are discussing. Though many dramas are only two or three hours long, we can appreciate them from many perspectives and backgrounds.
  2. When choosing a textbook, I have made it a rule to check several texts on the same subject and decide which can be completed within one or two semester(s) and is the richest in content. I tend to choose a textbook with condensed substance. However, such textbooks are sometimes difficult for students to understand. So students are given their pre-class task and, after class, are also given a follow-up task to deepen their understanding of class materials.
  3. Another goal of this class is improving students' ability to read academic English. In recent years, students have been largely interested in becoming better listeners and speakers of English, which is of course valuable in this global age. But I am sometimes surprised to know that they have scarcely finished reading a whole book written in English. When they say that their English is passable, they mean that they don't have any trouble traveling in foreign countries or that they often listen to English language news on radio or the Internet. Therefore, it is sometimes very hard for them to read academic articles or books written in English and grasp their content. I know they have few occasions to do this kind of training, so I encourage them not to avoid a difficult article and not to give it up until they have a full appreciation of it.

    The phenomenon of compartmentalization I mentioned earlier can be seen here, too. There is a tendency among students to unconsciously separate one subject from other subjects. This tendency, in my opinion, has been fostered in their secondary education. They are likely to separate foreign language abilities from other abilities. While they are learning English language, they are indifferent to other fields of knowledge. Therefore, I want to say to them that the activity of reading English in research ought to be a holistic activity making full use of their knowledge and experiences acquired so far.
  4. In the first semester the reading assignment will introduce the basic concepts of research, academic writing, and discussion. Advisee students will consult these materials to advance their research. Most of the students cannot master these concepts from just reading the books. They will have to return to these concepts at each stage of their research. In the second semester, while referring to these materials, we will attempt to raise students' consciousness of these concepts. Part of our resources can be accessed from my home page:

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Course Objectives & Aims

A. Perspectives for Approaching Drama
1. An understanding of how the ratio of "Scene/Action" (Kenneth Burke) changed through the centuries as western drama shifted from Shakespearean Theater to Modern Realism Theater (Ibsen and Chekov).
2. An understanding of the difference in tropology between Ibsen and Chekov, and of the establishment of the creative lineage from Ibsen to Harold Pinter and from Chekov to Samuel Beckett.
3. An understanding of the transformation of drama through the Renaissance Romanticism (Shakespeare), Realism, and Post-Realism.
4. A grasp of differences between metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony; and their functions in the theater history.
B. Approaching Dramatic Works--Searching for Multiple Viewpoints
1. Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler
2. Anton Chekov, The Cherry Orchard
3. William Shakespeare, Othello
C. Cultivating Research Ability in English

Course Contents

Regarding Goal A
We will read Bert O. States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theater (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989), pp. 58-79: Ch. 2 "The Scenic Illusion: Shakespeare and Naturalism" in turns and discuss the main points in class. This will comprise the bulk of our work this semester. The instructor will distribute a summary in advance. Students in turn add their own contributions to the summary in order to demonstrate full comprehension of States' book. The instructor will then edit the supplementary material created by the student, and distribute it to the rest of the class via email. The student's grasp of the material will be confirmed on the day of their presentation.
Regarding Goal B
1. We will discuss the three dramatic texts mentioned above. Students create "Questions" and bring them to class. The collected "Questions" will form the basis of the discussion.
2. "Questions" Instructions:
A "Question" is organized in a paragraph of three or four sentences. In other words, it ought to state the focal point clearly and show your own reading of the text (comment, insight, interpretation). Students are expected to attend to the characteristics of drama (script, actors, audience and other factors), carefully study the moment to moment changes in the impression of the text/imaginary stage (the viewpoint of the audience, the importance of the cumulative experience), attend to the relationships between parts of the text (organization), focus on other texts that you have read or seen (intertextuality), and do not forget to put into practical use things you have learned in other classes (theories).
3. Examples of "Questions" are included in my website ("Thinking concretely about Dramatic Texts"). Please use these as a reference.
"Questions" for Hedda Gabler and The Cherry Orchard are available at--
Regarding Goal C
This goal will be fulfilled while working on Goal A.
Watching Videos. This is not included in the schedule indicated above, but we will enjoy dramas or performances on video once or twice per semester.

Related Resources

Shakespeare and the Body: Staging Catastrophic Rome (Jinbunshoin, 2013) (JPEG, 538KB)

Course Schedule

Session Contents
1 Class Introduction
2 States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms (GR): Reading in Turns
3 GR
4 GR
5 Discussion of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler
6 GR
7 GR
8 GR
9 Discussion of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard
10 GR
1 Class Introduction
11 GR
12 GR
13 Discussion of Shakespeare's Othello
14 GR
15 GR, Final Exam and Reports Due


Class Participation (homework and submitted work included) (30%), Final Report (70%)

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Page last updated March 13, 2013

The class contents were most recently updated on the date indicated. Please be aware that there may be some changes between the most recent year and the current page.

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