Syllabus for Tragedy Course

Fall, 2005


Instructor: Tripp Robbins


            Phone: 330-2001, X2339

            Office: A153.  I teach in two rooms: A 138 and the “New Media Lab” behind Stent, Room 54.


Goals for students


A)   Become familiar with some major tragic plays and authors

B)   Be able to demonstrate an understanding of the evolution of the tragic genre in drama

C)   Be able to analyze plays in terms of plot development, theme, character, and in comparison to other plays.

D)   Understand the difference between seeing a play as literature and as a performance.

E)    Become familiar with appropriate theater terminology

F)    Read and interact with critical writing about specific plays and/or the tragic genre.


For Individual Plays:


As we work through the main texts, students will be required to do at least two of the options below (one for each play), and you must do at least one traditional essay. The primary goal of all these projects is to promote student connection to the plays. I want you to find pursue an aspect that attracts you. Feel free to suggest something that is not described below; usually I can work something out with you.

--     Traditional Essay – here are a few options; others are certainly possible.  (Length: 2000-2500 words)

o      Character Analysis or Comparison

o      Thematic Analysis

o      Critical Analysis

o      The play’s place among tragic works

--     Fiction Writing – Details to be worked out with the instructor.  Two main options:

1. Write an additional section of the play, either before, after, or in the middle of the existing play.  This would be an addition or change to the existing play. (Length: can vary but must be substantial and show a good knowledge of the play)

2. Write a separate scene(s) using one or more of the characters from the play. (This would be part of a separate “new” play.) (Length: can vary but must be substantial and show a good knowledge of the play)

--     Journal Creation - Create the journal of one character.  This needs to demonstrate a solid knowledge of the play and be creative and interesting, not simply a recounting of the plot in a diary form.  Suggestions: get into the character’s inner life - what emotions and thoughts are suggested but not stated in the text?  You may take a little creative liberty with this, but do not betray the original text.  (Length: around 2000 words)

--     Costume Plot (jump to details)– including:

-Create “sketches” of some sort for 6-8 costumes

-Integrate not only the setting (date and location) and characters’ natures, but also the theme

-Include fabric types, estimate costs, etc.

-You will need to include an oral and written explanation/defense showing rationale for choices (w/questions from audience). Guidelines for the explanation/defense are found here.   A written explanation must accompany the sketches turned in.

--   Set Design – (jump to details) (you could also integrate lighting design) – including:

-Create model (either scale model or digital version) that works for all scenes.

-Integrate not only the setting (date and location) and needs of script but also the theme.

-Include materials to be used (e.g., real wood paneling or just painted to look like it?)

-You may need to get into technical elements, depending on play…see instructor for help.

-Oral or written explanation/defense showing rationale for choices (w/questions from audience). Guidelines for the explanation/defense are found here.

--   Sound Design –(jump to details) This can incorporate both music and sound “effects.”  You can choose songs you know, you can describe music that doesn’t exist, you can choose sound effects, etc. etc. – all to help complement the story that the play tells.  You may want only a part of a song, of course.  It’s up to you to tell when the song would begin playing and how much of it plays (what’s going on in the play when it ends?). You also need to write an accompanying explanation of why you made the choices you made. Guidelines for the explanation/defense are found here. -This project is not a simple matter of picking some songs and listing their order!

--   “Director’s Plan”  -- (jump to details) This is a sort of combination of all design elements.  It’s the kind of thing a director would do in preparation to direct the play.  (See Appendix for details.)


3.  Other Forms of Evaluation:

A. Classroom Grade:

1)    Participation – actively joining in discussions and activities; coming to class prepared

2)    Focus – being tuned-in to the discussions, lectures, and presentations

3)    Behavior – just acting appropriately for the classroom (e.g., punctual, respectful, not distracting, cooperative…)

B. Play Reaction Essay – after attending an entire live performance of a full-length play (at least 1x/semester), write a reaction essay describing your thoughts on the show you saw.  For instance: what did you like and why?  What didn’t you like and why not?  What surprised you about the production?  What did you learn, if anything?  Where and what date did you attend?  Length: approx. 500 words.

C. Final Essay/project: We will discuss this in detail in class. This will serve as the final exam.

D. Homework will usually not be graded, in general, other than the pop quizzes.


Plagiarism Policy: The Menlo Student Handbook explains this; we will discuss it in more detail in class. The main point here is twofold: 1) you must give credit where credit is due, and 2) I want you to really learn things, not just regurgitate info that you found.



Rubric for Course Grading:


Play Projects                           =12% each   (x5 = 60%)

Classroom Grade                    =25%

Play Reaction Essay               =5%

Final Essay/Project                 =10%


Total:                                     =100%




Extra credit opportunities can be worked out with the instructor; all must be turned in a week before the  semester ends.  Ideas:








APPENDIX 1: Details of Design Project Evaluation Criteria


This information applies to students doing scenic, costume or sound design projects.


For all projects:

--     Design: You should strive to create designs that help tell the story of the play.

--     Written Explanation: You must include a written explanation of your choices for the design. That is, explain why you chose to make the design the way you did; how do your choices improve the production?  This should be about 700-1000 words, roughly.  It should be written in prose form, not an outline or bullet points.  You should discuss the various details of the project, not just the design as a whole (e.g., for a costume plot, describe each character’s clothes

--     Oral Explanation: You should present your work to either the whole class or to just me; the oral presentation should include the content of the written explanation, but don’t just read it.  You may use notes/notecards, but don’t just read.  I will ask some questions about anything that isn’t clear, and you should be prepared to give good answers. It should be 5 minutes in length. Oral presentations are graded on how well you manage time, how organized the presentation is, how clear it is, and how well you cover the things you should discuss.

--     I suggest that you discuss your plans with me before starting so you know you’re not going off into left field. It's wise, but it’s not required.

  -- Rubric for Evaluating Design Projects:

  • 50% = Your ideas (How well the design choices to help the production tell the story; how functional they are, appropriateness to play, etc.)
  • 30% = Your model/sketches/ etc. (clear and easy to understand, effictively convey color, size, scale, period, etc. as needed for production)
  • 10% = Oral Presentation
  • 10% = Written explanation

Costume Design Project Details:


Scenic Design Project Details:


Sound Design (or rather, Sound Track) Project Details

o      When it comes in – describe the moment exactly

o      Does it start suddenly (a “cold” start) or fade in gradually?

o      The relative volume at which it plays (e.g., soft, medium or loud).

o      Whether the actors or just the audience are aware of it

o      Who wrote it and who performs it

o      The exact moment when it ends (and when it begins to fade, if it does)

o      The way in which it ends – suddenly (a “cold” ending) or gradually

o      Written lyrics, if there are any spoken or sung lyrics.



APPENDIX 2: Details of the “Director’s Plan” Option


You should include these various elements that a director would have to consider and plan when preparing to direct a play.  You should write your plan in paragraph form, and put a simple heading at the start of each new section (e.g., “Casting” and “Sets & Lighting” and so on).  Length will be determined by what you have to say.  (See more specific info below.)  While this option seems easy on some levels, the expectations are high for quality and


DIRECTOR’S SLANT – This sort of covers the big picture of your approach to the play. What is the heart of the play? What theme or themes will you focus on, and how will you help bring them out to tell the story of the play?  How will it stand out from other productions?   Will you make any small changes to the script?  Will this violate the play as written?  What do you know about the author’s intentions for the play and how will you consider them? What will be your unique vision for the show? You can also plan to cut the text and shorten the show, but explain your general reasoning for what you’d cut and why. This section should be about a page long (400 words).


CASTING – In this section you will describe what you would want each character to be like and what characteristics, looks, and abilities (etc.) you would look for in actors for each role.  Larger characters should receive more detailed thoughts while smaller characters would receive less attention.  For example, if you were doing Hamlet, you should give about 150-200 words to the role of Hamlet, 100-150 for Claudius, 100 or so for Gertrude, 75-100 or so for Polonius, 75-100 for Ophelia, 75 or so to Laertes…and so on.  The Gravedigger might get a couple sentences, as would Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Of course, if you want to focus on a character, you can certainly add more.  Use the text as a source for what you’ll look for in each role, but you can also add your own creative ideas, as long as you don’t betray the play (w/out having a damn good reason).


SETS & LIGHTING – In this section you’ll describe what you would want to tell a scenic designer who you’d hire.  You don’t need to design the set or have a detailed plan.  At minimum, you should have 200 words describing what ideas or limitations you have for the set and lighting.  Do you want the set to be more realistic or more abstract?  Do you want a unit set or a number of different locations?  Do you have colors or textures in mind?  Do you want to have different levels on the stage?  How complicated will things be?  How big a budget are you planning for (that is, materials costs and labor time)?  What will the lighting be like?  Will you want lots of color or simple looks?  What FEEL will the set and lighting get across?  How will they help to tell the story of the play? 


COSTUMING – Similar to the Sets and Lighting area, this is your plan for talking with a costumer designer.  Consider questions such as… What ideas/feelings do you have for colors?  Textures?  Will it be a realistic looking costuming or not?  How will the visual look of the costumes work with the sets and lighting?  Are there any things you will demand (e.g., “Hamlet must start in black in the first scene” or “the show must be done in a 1960s scheme”)?  What special considerations are there for certain characters (e.g., “I want a fat suit on Claudius because…” or “I’m thinking of some very flowing, light gossamer-type gowns for Ophelia”)?  This should be about a half a page, 200 words, minimum.


OTHER AREAS – This includes sound design (both music and “sound effects”), dance and/or movement thoughts, special thoughts on props, special effects, what you’d want in the lobby, any marketing ideas, and anything else that you want to do with your production.


FYI: you don’t need a formal concluding paragraph for this paper.