Faculty of Arts


Drama: Topics and Themes

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for DRAMA 301.


This course focuses on several topics around working with an audience, especially in comic acting and comic forms. You should be prepared for extensive practical workshops and exercises on the material studied, both solo and in groups. Topics of exploration will include: laughter, the comic actor and the audience, clowning, styles of comedy and the comic, the social spaces of performance, and so on. We will look in particular at dramatic work by Beckett and Shakespeare, at traditions of the mask and commedia dell’arte and street theatre. Our semester-length project will be a performance of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, performed by acts in workshop groups at the end of the semester.

We will begin with laughter. Laughter is a universal human experience, and drama that provokes laughter seems to be a near-universal in cultures that have traditions of dramatic performance. In the European tradition, this type of drama is often called “comedy” (with various subspecies such as comedy of manners, tragicomedy, black comedy, farce and so on), though other kinds of drama also contain laughter. In the first part of the course we will explore what laughter is, how it is generated and what effects it has, and combine our discussion of various theories of laughter with explorations of comic performance and comic acting. We will investigate scenes of laughter in everyday life, discuss some instances of extraordinary laughter and try exercises designed to produce laughter and the comic, involving such variables as status, gender, incongruity, relief, embarrassment, obscenity and so on. The first question we will be addressing will be “Why do we laugh?”

Readings for workshop sessions will be provided over Canvas in weekly modules, and you are also expected to work on group projects for a further two hours a week, on Wednesday afternoons. Assessment is based on work in class, both individually and in groups, plus occasional written reflective assessments of your creative exploration and development. There is no examination. 


During this course you will develop expertise, experience and strategies in the following areas:

  • Improvisational games and exercises
  • Theories of laughter and their relevance to comic structures and performance
  • Theory, traditions and practical performance of mask work, both individually and in groups
  • Theory, traditions and practical performance of Street Theatre
  • Enhanced acquaintance with standard comic structures and aspects of clowning (skits, business, shtick, improv and so on)
  • Enhanced acquaintance with Shakespearean language and comic structures
  • Scenarios and strategies of working in group project environments

Provisional class limits for 2018:

Enrolment is limited to 25 students. First priority: students with a Drama major ranked by grade in DRAMA 302.  Second priority: Any Drama majors who have not yet sat DRAMA 302 ranked by grade in DRAMA 204. Third priority: Drama minors ranked by grade in DRAMA 204.  Fourth priority: other students who have passed DRAMA 204 ranked by grade in DRAMA 204.  Fifth priority: students in non-Drama majors ranked by grade in Drama-related courses.  Sixth priority: students with other demonstrable experience in the dramatic arts.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2018

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Professor Tom Bishop


Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona (get your own copy)

Additional readings will be posted on Canvas for you to read online and/or print out.


Coursework only


DRAMA 301: 15.0 points


DRAMA 204 and approval Academic Head or nominee



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