Drama 202 Course Guide: History of Theater from the Renaissance
Identifying a Topic
Reference works such as encyclopedias and dictionaries can help you narrow down a broad topic, find keywords related to your ideas, and even recommend some works with which you can start.
All these reference works and more can be found on Level 3 of the library.
Finding Reference Works
Some reference works to start with:
- Gale Virtual Reference Library, a collection of encyclopedias online
- The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama (PN1861 .C65 2007)
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre & Performance (PN2035 .O94 2003)
- The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre (PN 1861 .W67 1994)
We also have more specific reference works, such as The Oxford Companion to American Theatre and The Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre.
To find them, search CUNY+. You can use the Guided Search and limit by location to see only reference works.
Using Reference Works
A reference work such as a handbook or encyclopedia will not tell you everything you want to know about a topic. However, it is often a good place to get started.
Most encyclopedia articles will give some background information that may help you understand a theater movement or the context in which it took place. It can help you identify a specific time period or location that you need to research. Articles such as these are also good sources for keywords that may describe your topic in other ways. For instance, you may learn that theater in the round is also called arena theater.
Many of these reference works also include bibliographies for each entry. These bibliographies can be enormously helpful in finding further research materials.
Most of your resources will probably be articles. You can find them in databases provided by the library; some good options are listed below.
You may find you need to look into several databases, and within the same one, you may find yourself searching multiple times. This is normal; research is a cyclical process, not a linear one. Use the results of your search to decide what keywords you should use the next time.
- MLA International Bibliography
- A comprehensive literature database, MLA provides criticism about plays, authors or movements. You can search by name of work to find information about a specific play or use keywords to search for information on a movement.
- A collection of journals in all fields, JSTOR is especially strong in literature and history. You can search full text, but there is no indexing, so you should refine your keywords in other databases before visiting JSTOR.
- International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance
- A database focused on theatre. Here you will find a variety of sources; it includes scholarly articles, chapters from books, and reviews of particular performances.
- Literature Criticism Online and Literature Resource Center
- These two databases are good for getting started on a work. Literature Criticism Online provides excerpts of criticism on a play over the course of its history, each with its own bibliography. Literature Resource Center is NOT the best place to search for scholarly articles, but it can help you find overviews and interviews that you may find helpful.
Even if you don't think you have time to read a full book, you may find one that has a chapter of interest. Books are also useful when you want to see how a topic is broken down.
CUNY+ is the library's online catalog. It allows you to search for books, journals (but not articles), DVDs, and other items we have in the library.
If you are searching for information on a particular play or playwright, use the Subject Begins With search to search for him or her, surname first. This is the easiest way to find information having to do with an author or other significant individual.
If you are searching for information on an event, a movement, or a type of performance, you should start by doing a keyword search. For instance, if I were interested in Noh drama, I might use Noh Theater as a keyword.
If you click on one of the books that you find in your search, you will see the subject headings relating to that particular item. In this case, I might find that the books on Noh theater use Nō as a subject heading. Click on the heading to see all the library's books on that topic.
You can also begin your search with subject headings. Here are some examples of subject headings, just to give you some idea what you can find:
- American drama -- History and criticism
- Drama -- History and Criticism
- Realism in literature
- Stanislavsky, Konstantin, 1863–1938
- Symbolism (Literary movement)
- Theater -- History
To search these subject headings, select Subject begins with as you are searching the catalog. This will give you a list of subject related to this one in alphabetical order.
Notice that many of the larger movements, such as realism and symbolism, are classified as part of literature rather than more specifically as drama. You can narrow it down by using the guided search and entering drama or theater in the second box.
In the case of national literatures, another country may be substituted. Also, like kabuki, many other forms of drama are subject headings, as are most significant individuals (such as Stanislavsky).
Finally, the Library of Congress subject headings use the spelling “theater” rather than “theatre,” so make sure you spell it this way if you want to catch the subject headings! In general, it is a good idea to check both spellings when you are searching.
Call numbers not only tell you where a book is in the library, they also group books by subject. Therefore, browsing can be very useful. Check the fifth floor for circulating books and the third floor for reference.
- PN 1635 – 1650 Special Topics in Drama
- PN 1720 – 1861 History of Drama
- PN 2131 – 2193 Theater history by period
- PN 2171 – 2179 Renaissance Drama
- PN 2181 – 2193 Modern Drama
- PR 621 – 744 British Drama
- PS 330 – 353 American Drama
Of course, these are far from being the only places you might find relevant books. Many of them will be grouped with the literary movements or periods of which they are a part. One good strategy is to begin with a particular book in mind, and look at the shelves near that book.