Teaching eighteenth-century drama through classroom and digital performance
Sheila A. Morton, Illinois State University, United States
Illinois State University . Awarded
In this dissertation, I argue for a method of teaching eighteenth-century drama that focuses on performance. The course that serves as the basis for my research was an introductory literature course taught at Illinois State University in the Spring of 2005. Few of the students had experience in either drama or eighteenth-century literature. For this reason, I sought both to introduce students to the drama as well as help them recognize the unique openness and interpretive layering of dramatic texts generally. Because all of the students entered the course with a high degree of technological literacy, I first introduced the drama through online or other digital performance techniques. These asked students to consider the impact of such things as acting, casting, and scenic design on the realization of meaning in a dramatic text. The capaciousness and interactivity of computer environments makes them ideal sites for the exploration of theatre, and students were able to utilize these benefits as they first explored the drama. Once students were more comfortable with the plays, I asked them to research the historical conventions of eighteenth-century theatre and consider how the dramas both influenced and were influenced by those performance conventions. Finally, students were asked to prepare and perform scenes from the plays, paying careful attention to the meaning they were creating through their performance choices. Reading drama for performance, both contemporary and historical, allows students to see the multiple possibilities that dramatic texts contain, and teaches them to make informed and intelligent interpretive decisions. This focus on multiplicity and choice, moreover, helps to develop students' textual literacy by showing them the way that any text contains open moments in which an astute reader may make important interpretive decisions. This recognition of multiplicity and readerly autonomy is beneficial to beginning students' cognitive and intellectual development.
Morton, S.A. Teaching eighteenth-century drama through classroom and digital performance. Ph.D. thesis, Illinois State University.
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