If there’s a genre of literature I’ve left mostly unexplored, it’s dramas and plays. I read some Shakespeare for my last ever undergrad class (Freshman Comp because you’re curious). Beyond that, basically nothing. But, that’s what Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind is good for. The list below will help you and me fill in the gaps in our literacy.
Before getting to that though, I’ll give the questions she suggests asking the works that you read. Before she gives the readers that, she offers a history of the play in five acts:
- The Greeks (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aristotle)
- Mystery and Morality (Everyman)
- The Age of Shakespeare (Marlowe and Shakespeare)
- Men and Manners (Moliere, Congreve, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde)
- The Triumph of Ideas (Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, Eliot, Wilder, O’Neill, Sartre, Williams, Miller, Beckett, Bolt, Stoppard)
After a brief explanation of the purpose of reading plays (“what theater can do better than TV is to imagine.”), Bauer gives her questions in the stages we’ve seen so far in novels, autobiographies, and histories.
Grammar-Stage Reading (268-273)
- Look at the title, cover, and general organization of the play
- When you encounter stage directions, read them carefully
- Keep a list of characters as you read
- Briefly note the main event of each scene
- Can you identify a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution?
- Which “act” of the drama does the play belong to?
- What holds the play’s action together?
- Write a two- or three-sentence explanation of the play’s title
Logic-Stage Reading (273-277)
- If the play is given unity by plot, list the events that lead up to the play’s climax
- If the play is given unity by character, ask for each major character, the same basic questions you asked for the novel
- If the play is given unity by an idea, can you state the idea?
- Do any of the characters stand in opposition to each other?
- How do the characters speak?
- Is there any confusion of identity?
- Is there a climax, or is the play open ended?
- What is the play’s theme?
Rhetoric-Stage Reading (277-279)
- How would you direct and stage this play? (Depending on how much you like it, you could do this exercise for a scene, an act, or the whole thing)
Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated drama list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.
With that in mind, here’s the list:
- Oedipus the King
- The Birds
- Doctor Faustus
- Richard III
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- The Way of the World
- She Stoops to Conquer
- The School for Scandal
- A Doll’s House
- The Importance of Being Earnest
- The Cherry Orchard
- Saint Joan
- Murder in the Cathedral
- Our Town
- Long Day’s Journey into Night
- No Exit
- A Streetcar Named Desire
- Death of a Salesman
- Waiting for Godot
- A Man for All Seasons
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead