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Unit information: Aristotle's Poetics and Modern Creative Practice in 2017/18

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Unit name Aristotle's Poetics and Modern Creative Practice
Unit code CLAS30038
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Emma Cole
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


No ancient text has had as much influence upon the creative industries as Aristotle’s Poetics, or been as misunderstood. This unit explores the complex legacy of Aristotle’s treatise, with a focus upon the twenty- and twenty-first-century theatre and film industry. It includes an exploration of ancient literary criticism, alongside a detailed study of the Poetics itself, neo-classical interpretations of the Poetics, and the legacy of this text within a range of theatre and film movements. The practitioners and movements covered may include Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre, Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Howard Barker’s Theatre of Catastrophe, contemporary scriptwriting theory, and postdramatic theatre.


- To introduce students to the legacy of Aristotle’s Poetics, and to consider the relationship between modern interpretations, neo-classical interpretations, and the ancient text; - To provide an overview of scholarly approaches to the study of ancient literary criticism - To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials. - To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. 1. Explain and critique Aristotle’s Poetics and its legacy
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the methodological and theoretical issues involved in studying ancient literary criticism and its reception
  3. Use the knowledge acquired in seminars and through group discussion and their own researches to construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on different aspects of the subject
  4. Demonstrate skills in critical thinking and oral and written communication appropriate to level H

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour seminar and 1 x 1 hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

One coursework essay of 3,000 words (50%); one written examination (two hours) (50%) and one formative presentation. All elements will assess ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Aristotle, Poetics

Ø. Andersen and J. Haarberg, Making Sense of Aristotle: Essays in Poetics (London 2001)

B. Brecht, Brecht on Theatre (London 2015)

B. Brecht, Brecht on Performance (London 2014)

M. Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Garde (Princeton 2005).

P. Dwyer, ‘Theoria Negativa: Making Sense of Boal’s Reading of Aristotle’, Modern Drama 48: 4 (2005), 635-658.

D. A. Russell and M. Winterbottom, Ancient Literary Criticism (Oxford 1971)

M. Tierno, Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters: Storytelling Secrets from the Greatest Mind in Western Civilization (New York 2002)