Theatre History I

Language, Literature & Performing Arts
Course Code
THEA 1130
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Typically Offered


Course Description
This is a survey course that explores the roots of the Western theatre tradition. Students will learn about innovations in theatre styles and staging conventions from the Greek, Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance periods. By attending live theatre and considering the way historical methods are adapted in contemporary productions, students will develop skills as informed audience members and competent critics. Students will also participate in group discussions of representative plays.
Course Content
  1. The Nature of Theatre
    • Defining the basic elements
    • Theatre in relation to other forms of art
    • Special qualities of theatrical art
  2. The Relationship between Performance, Audience and Critic
    • Watching a performance
    • The audience and critical perspective
    • Challenges of criticism
    • Qualities needed in a critic
  3. The Significance of the Text
    • Reading a play
    • Methods of organizing dramatic action (Aristotelean vocabulary)
    • Dramatic genre (tragedy, comedy, hybrid forms)
    • Style in drama
  4. Theatre in Classical Greece
    • The political and social context
    • The festival context in Athens
    • The Theatre of Dionysus
    • The performers: chorus and actors
    • The dramatists: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides
    • Sample focus work: Sophocles’ Oedipus the King
    • Sample focus work: classical and post-classical variations on the theme of Medea
    • Comedy: Aristophanes and Menander
    • Sample focus work: Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
  5. Theatre in Ancient Rome
    • The festival context: Roman ludi
    • Assimilation and adaptation of other traditions
    • Scripted comedy: Plautus and Terence
    • Sample focus work: scenes from Plautus’ The Manaechmus Brothers
    • Mime and pantomime
    • Paratheatrical entertainment
  6. Theatre in Medieval Europe and England
    • The festival context: trade guilds and Corpus Christi
    • Conventions of medieval staging
    • Sample focus work from the Wakefield Cycle: The Second Shepherds’ Pageant
    • Liturgical drama
    • Morality plays
    • Mummers plays
  7. Theatre in Elizabethan England
    • Transitional steps
    • The first public playhouses
    • Objections to the theatre
    • Dramatists and actors
    • Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre
    • Sample focus work: Hamlet
    • Jacobean and Caroline developments
    • The court masque
  8. Theatre in Renaissance Italy
    • The intellectual and artistic context
    • The academies and dramatic theory
    • Innovations in performance: commedia dell’arte
    • Sample focus work: The Dentist (A Commedia Scenario)
    • Innovations in staging: perspective and scene-shifting
  9. Theatre in Seventeenth Century France
    • The intellectual and artistic context
    • Neoclassicism: theory and practice
    • The dramatists: Corneille, Racine, Moliere
    • Refinements in staging practice: opera and ballet
    •  Sample focus work: Moliere’s Tartuffe
  10. Classical, Medieval, Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century French Drama on the Contemporary Stage
    • The classics in repertory
    • Historical accuracy and new perspectives
    • Controversies and rebellions



Learning Activities

This course invites students to begin what is hoped will be a lifelong relationship with live theatre.  To that end, the instructor will combine lectures on the cultural and political context of landmark plays with opportunities for small group discussions.  Slides, video segments and recordings will be incorporated into the lectures and discussions.  In-class writing (short, timed, freewriting sessions in response to catalyst questions ) will offer students a chance to widen the application of lecture concepts and vocabulary in a personal, critical way.   Attendance at live theatre performances will be a vital component of the course.  Students will be encouraged to consider how historical theatrical knowledge can be utilized in real, self-directed, creative theatre projects.

Means of Assessment
Two Play Reviews at 10% each 20%
Workshop participation
(8 workshops at 3 marks plus 1 bonus mark for attendance at all workshops)
Mid-term Exam 20%
Credit for In-class Writing 10%
Final Exam 25%
  Total 100%
Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, successful students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the distinct elements of theatre as an art form.
  2. Discuss variations in what is performed (script, scenario, plan), how it is performed, and why it is performed.
  3. Articulate the way text, performance and audience are interrelated.
  4. Identify the individual and collective processes that result in a theatrical event.
  5. Describe how different audiences can play a vital part in the creation of theatrical art.
  6. Discuss how the structure of a theatre building can be adapted to meet the changing needs of artists and audience members.
  7. Discuss the way theatre reflects paradigm shifts in cultural values, ideas and philosophical questions.
  8. Discuss how critics in different historical periods have evaluated the theatre of their own times.
  9. Discuss how theatre of other times and places can be made meaningful to contemporary audiences, with particular reference to Greek, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance Theatre.
  10. Develop a criteria for evaluating live theatre based on knowledge and experience.
  11. Demonstrate how social, cultural, political, religious and economic forces shape theatrical art.
  12. Demonstrate how theatrical conventions are reflected, rejected or combined over time by successive generations of artists.
  13. Recognize the use of historical theatrical devices in contemporary theatre.
  14. Use the vocabulary of theatre history with accuracy and precision.
  15. Rise to the challenge of reading dramatic language aloud with minimal preparation time.
  16. Demonstrate increased skills in recording and summarizing the verbal comments of peers in a discussion setting.
  17. Demonstrate tolerance for critical views that may be different from their own.
  18. Demonstrate increased skills as receptive and engaged audience members.
  19. Write theatre reviews that are balanced, insightful and specific.
  20. Utilize library resources for theatre history study.
  21. Undertake challenging reading assignments with an awareness of studying a text as an ongoing creative process.
  22. Value the instinctive responses and questions that emerge in the initial reading of a dramatic text.
  23. Value the contemplative responses and detailed questions that emerge with close study of a particular scene.
  24. Value the responses and questions of other students to a script or performance, and show a willingness to see through others’ eyes.
  25. Value coherence and specificity in written work, and show a willingness to revise a written response to strengthen coherence and specificity.
  26. Engage with a dramatic text in a creative way, envisioning original design concepts and fresh directorial ideas for the work.


Textbook Materials

A list of recommended textbooks and materials is provided on the Instructor’s Course Outline which is available to students at the beginning of each semester.

The following or equivalent textbooks are required:

  • Wilson, Edwin and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: A History. Fourth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2004.
  • Worthen, W.B. The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama. Fourth Edition Boston: Wadsworth, 2004.

Students will be expected to pay for tickets to two local performing arts events at a total anticipated cost of $30.00.



No prerequisite courses.


No corequisite courses.


No equivalent courses.

Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for THEA 1130
Capilano University (CAPU) CAPU ASAS 120 (3)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) KPU ARTS 1XXX (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG ENGL 1181 (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU CA 2XX (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU THTR 1XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) DOUG THEA 1130 (3) & DOUG THEA 1230 (3) = TWU THTR 332 (3)
University of British Columbia - Okanagan (UBCO) DOUG THEA 1130 (3) & DOUG THEA 1230 (3) = UBCO THTR 1st (6)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV THTR 120 (3) or UBCV THTR 1st (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC HUMN 1XX (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV THEA 101 (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC THEA 111 (1.5)

Course Offerings

Fall 2022

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THEA is restricted to THEA students.

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