Joseph Lauinger

BA, University of Pennsylvania. MA, Oxford University. MA, PhD, Princeton University. Special interest in American literature and film, the history of drama, and classical literature; recipient of the New York State Teacher of Excellence Award and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities; fiction and poetry published in Epoch, Lost Creek, Georgetown Review, Confrontation, and Pig Iron; plays performed throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom, Australia, and India; member of the Dramatists Guild. SLC, 1988–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Literature

First-Year Studies: Text and Theatre

Open , FYS—Year

This course explores the relation between the play as written text and the play as staged event. More than any other literary form, drama depends upon a specific place and time—a theatre and its audience—for its realization. The words of a play are the fossils of a cultural experience: They provide the decipherable means by which we can reconstruct approximations of the living past. With this goal in mind, we will read and examine texts from ancient Athens and medieval Japan to Elizabethan London and contemporary New York (with many stops in between) in an attempt to understand the range of dramatic possibility and the human necessity of making theatre.

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Shakespeare and the Semiotics of Performance

Open , Lecture—Year

The performance of a play is a complex cultural event that involves far more than the literary text upon which it is grounded. First, there is the theatre itself, a building of a certain shape and utility within a certain neighborhood of a certain city. On stage, we have actors and their training, gesture, staging, music, dance, costumes, possibly scenery and lighting. Offstage, we have the audience, its makeup, and its reactions; the people who run the theatre and the reasons why they do it; and finally the social milieu in which the theatre exists. In this course, we study all these elements as a system of signs that convey meaning (semiotics)—a world of meaning whose life span is a few hours but whose significances are ageless. The plays of Shakespeare are our texts. Reconstructing the performances of those plays in the England of Elizabeth I and James I is our starting place. Seeing how those plays have been approached and re-envisioned over the centuries is our journey. Tracing their elusive meanings—from within Shakespeare’s Wooden O to their adaptation in contemporary film—is our work.

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Related Disciplines

Previous Courses

Interrogating God: Tragedy and Divinity

Open , Seminar—Spring

The Greek gods attended the performances at the ancient theatre of Dionysos, which both recognized and challenged their participation in human affairs. The immediacy of divine presence enabled a civic body, the city, to enter into conversation with a cosmic one—a conversation whose subject was a shared story about the nature of experience and its possible significance: tragedy. Divinity is less congenial about playgoing in later periods, but it seems to have lent tragedy both a power to be reborn and a determination to address the universe even as Christianity, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Industrial Age reimagine it. In this course, we shall read essential Western texts in which the constant of human suffering is confronted and the gods are called to question even as they shift their shape. Among our authors are Aeschylus, Euripides, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Byron, Ibsen, and Beckett.

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Myth and Drama: Troy

Open , Seminar—Fall

Western theatre was born in the ancient Greek world; its greatest source of stories and characters was an epic poem, Homer's Iliad. This course, therefore, begins with a reading of the Iliad, in which the muses tell mankind what the gods know: that man is mortal and all the more interesting for that. If fear comes with the consciousness of death, so does the possibility of intensity, significance, and a need for its translation into something lasting: poetry and the invention of tragedy. From Homer, we shall go to Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—reading the plays based on the story of Troy, trying to reconstruct their original playing and power, and re-envisioning them in our own time.

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Wilde, Shaw, and Joyce

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Coincidence alone cannot explain that the three most original practitioners of English at the close of the Victorian Age and the start of the Modern were born in Ireland and chose to live elsewhere. Of these writers, only Joyce would have embraced the accusation or dignity of the phrase "self-exile,” although he himself claimed never to have left Dublin. Wilde stated repeatedly that he was "an Irishman" and, therefore, beyond good and evil as defined by gentlemanly codes, while Shaw deemed nationalistic allegiances absurd and (prophetically) lethal. In these stances, we may see the complexities and paradoxes of Irish identity—ethnic marginalization, religious zeal (redirected), linguistic play, irrepressible laughter—informing their cosmopolitan self-definition and enabling them to fashion distinctive and revolutionary art. It is no exaggeration to say that each left the English language—and, arguably, the world—not as he found it. In the first semester, we shall focus on Wilde, his plays, fiction, poetry, and essays; in the second semester, the fiction and the single play of Joyce. The bridge between them will be the plays of Shaw, which transform the conventions of drawing-room comedy into daring political commentary whose implications have yet to be resolved.

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The Making of Modern Theatre: Ibsen and Chekhov

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

A study of the originality and influences of Ibsen and Chekhov, the first semester begins with an analysis of melodrama as the dominant form of popular drama in the Industrial Age. This analysis provides the basis for an appreciation of Ibsen, who took the complacent excitements of melodrama and transformed them into theatrical explosions that undermined every unquestioned piety of middle-class life. The effect on Strindberg leads to a new way of constructing theatrical experience. The second semester focuses on Chekhov, who in retuning theatrical language to the pitches and figures of music, challenges conventional ideas of plot. Finally, Brecht, Lorca, and Beckett introduce questions about the very sensations delivered by drama, plumbing its validity and intent.

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American Stages: The Evolution of Theatre in the United States

Open , Lecture—Year

In a nation invented on suppositions of individuality and equality, theatre has always held a peculiar place. On the one hand, Western theatre and the genres of tragedy and comedy were born from democracy in its ancient Athenian form; on the other hand, the communal nature of theatre goes against the expressions of self-reliance that characterize American vision and enterprise. This course explores the ways in which people who have called themselves Americans, sometimes with significant cultural modifiers, have thought about and made theatre from the 18th century to the present. We shall begin by looking at early attempts to create American “entertainments” based upon European forms. Soon, the displacement of native peoples, African slavery, expansion into the West, mass immigration, and industrialism led to new social and political uses of melodrama. In the 20th century, a “classic” American drama develops, represented in the works of Eugene O’Neill, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller. We shall then retrace our steps in order to gain alternative perspectives. These come primarily from the influence of African American music, particularly jazz, as it informs popular entertainments and blends with European vaudeville and “gaiety” shows to create a new and characteristically American genre: musical theatre. Simultaneously, the element of improvisation as derived from jazz contributes to the idea of unscripted work as quintessentially American, challenging the entire role of the playwright and the boundaries of theatrical space. We will then be in a position to examine the paradoxes of contemporary stages in which the invention of the self—that unique American assumption, privilege, and burden—is conflicted by identity politics, postmodernism, and the reflexive poses of irony.

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