Sample text selections for Drama

Choosing texts for Drama

How to choose the right combination of texts for your class so that they will enjoy their genre study but also have a variety of possibilities for answering the questions they face in the exam? The PLA gives you a wide range of choices: considering your options and working out the possibilities for comparison given by different combinations can be a time-consuming - but quite enjoyable - business.

The following are sample text combinations to give you some idea about the thinking that can go into selecting the texts for your class. There is one for each level.

These selections are not being held up as any better than the many other combinations you could select from the PLA but they are choices that have worked with classes in the past, both in terms of giving a rich and engaging learning experience about the genre concerned, and in terms of success in the final examinations.

A reminder of the advice from examiners:

"Choice of texts does need very careful consideration, given that candidates will have to write comparatively. Teachers preparing candidates for this paper should ensure that they are alert to a variety of possibilities for comparison, not just in terms of broadly comparable content but also with reference to stylistic features and authorial intent."

May 2015 Subject report, English A Literature Time Zone 1

Selection 1: Drama at HL

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Thoughts on this combination:

There are some big hitters in this selection: both Doctor Faustus and Waiting for Godot are seminal texts in the history of the genre and, while perhaps not as groundbreaking, Top Girls and Arcadia are also notable works at the very least. All four texts are interesting in terms of genre: Faustus is a tragedy, Godot a tragicomedy while Arcadia and Top Girls are perhaps harder to categorize but all four texts use comedy and, it could be argued, all end in tragedy. The handling of time allows for some interesting comparisons: the 24 years compressed in Faustus, the repetitions, waiting and circular structure of Godot, the non-linear structures used by Stoppard and Churchill. How space is used too: the unity of place gives Godot and Arcadia one constant at least amidst all the chaos while Top Girls and Faustus roam more freely in terms of where they take us - a European tour on the back of a dragon in the case of Faustus. Thematically, the desire for knowledge and power features in all even if such human aspirations are ridiculed, satirised and undermined in the way each of these dramas play themselves out. Both in terms of its author and its characters, Top Girls serves as an interesting counterpoint to the other texts in any discussion of gender and the expression or portrayal of women in drama. There are many more connections and contrasts to be found but already this reveals itself to be a potentially rich combination.

Selection 2: Drama at SL

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Thoughts on this combination: 

All three have a central protagonist struggling against a world that becomes, quite suddenly, hostile.  In The Crucible and The Birthday Party the protagonist's world is disrupted by others/outsiders while in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche is the outsider placed in an environment which can only destroy her.  Other points of connection: all three are interesting in terms of how back story is used to drive the action, the inconsistency and incomprehensibility of Pinter's exposition offering a contrast to the more conventional approaches adopted by Miller and Williams; how the three playwrights use stage-directions is also interesting and reveals a lot in terms of the genre of each play and the vision of each writer in bringing it to the stage; comparing the use, style and function of dialogue will also bring out some interesting links and contrasts, as will a consideration of how each play is structured into Acts and Scenes.  Two of these plays (The Crucible and A Streetcar Named Desire) are fairly common choices but put together with the The Birthday Party this is perhaps a less predictable combination that offers students a chance to explore the genre with some insight and originality.  
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