COMP 275
Lying, Cheating, Stealing: Hidden Knowledge in American Drama Spring 2015
Division I Writing Skills
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Class Details

The Buddha is said to have identified three things that cannot stay hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. What’s the secret? Who is lying? Who is quietly disregarding the rules? The revelation of hidden knowledge–what Aristotle called anagnorisis–lies at the base of what drama is, and how theatre functions. Theatre is lying as much as lying is theatre. So it should not be a surprise that playwrights often deliver plots and characters that pit playing against truth, and that oppose concealment and revelation as keys to dramatic action. But it should also not surprise that in the modern era, clarity in the dialectic of “truth and falsehood” has eroded as well. Relativity of honesty, contingency with regard to certain knowledge, “truthiness”–these too have a place in the modern theatre. This tutorial course will examine what lies hidden in American plays from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first. Beginning with excerpted critical and historical writings on secrecy and lying (The Adventures of Pinocchio, Machievelli’s The Prince, Thomas Carlson’s Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice, Sissela Bok’s Secrets, Martin Jay’s The Virtues of Mendacity, among others), we will proceed to a set of American plays from across a wide spectrum of playwrights, including Edward Albee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Ruhl, Sam Shepard, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Amy Herzog, and others. Student papers will explore how hidden knowledge structures dramatic action, how different characters create and respond to untruths, and what can we learn in particular from American drama about a national relationship to honesty and its opposites.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 3757
Grading: OPG
Requirements/Evaluation: weekly papers/response papers; weekly meeting with instructor and tutorial partner
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Theatre majors, English majors
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills

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