English 90pw. Every Play Ever Written

Instructor: Derek Miller
Wednesday, 12:00-2:00pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

This course explores the history of dramatic writing in the US and Europe through the study of every play ever written. Of course, we cannot actually study all those plays—that’s the point. Our explorations of plays (or any other type of art or literature) necessarily include a small fragment of all plays. What does it mean that we learn cultural history this way? That we study drama and yet know nothing at all of most dramatic writing? How, as people invested in the theater and its history, should we think about such astounding ignorance? And what is the relationship between those plays we do see, act in, or read, and the vastly larger number of plays we will never encounter?

This seminar puts theatrical texts in perspective by focusing on the relationship between the exemplary texts that we anthologize and study and the forgotten archive of everything else. We will approach this problem by comparing a set of exemplary texts to lists of plays, considering the relationship between the examples and the lists, and then extrapolating to hypothesize what we can and cannot truly know about the plays we have not read. In short, this course explores the limits of our knowledge of cultural history. We seek not to answer questions definitively, or even really to produce a set of viable hypotheses, so much as to understand better those things we do not and can not know about theater. We will learn, in other words, what we can never learn.