But, I never walked to school barefoot in the snow

I'm trying to write some final exam questions for my Introduction to Literature class. A few weeks ago, I had a question rattling around in my head. It had something to do with the dramatic conventions of tragedy. For inspiration, I started leafing through some textbooks. I refer quite often to the theater text, published in 1989, that I used as an undergraduate.

The introductory material to the section on tragedy begins,

Whimsical assertions that all of us are Platonists or Aristotelians, or liberals or conservatives ("Nature wisely does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That's born into the world alive / Is either a Liberal / Or else a little Conservative"), reveals a tendency to divide things into two. Two is about right: Peace and war, man and woman, day and night, life and death. There may be middle cases; there is the cold war, and Edmund Burke suggested that no one can point to the precise moment that divides the day from night--but Burke also suggested that everyone can make the useful distinction between day and night. The distinction between comedy and tragedy may not always be easy to make, but until the twentieth century it is usually clear enough. Hamlet, which in Horatio's words is concerned with "woe and wonder," is a tragedy; A Midsummer Night's Dream, which in Puck's words is concerned with things that pleasingly "befall preposterously," is a comedy. The best plays of our century, however, are another thing, and the discussion of these plays--somewhat desperately called tragicomedy--will be postponed until later in this chapter. (65)

Types of Drama: Plays and Essays. Fifth Edition. Eds. Barnet, Berman, Burto. Glenville, Illinois: Scott, Foresman & Co, 1989. Print.

Then, I flipped to the "Introduction" to a more contemporary text, published in 2009, and landed on the "Major Moments in the History of Theater":

The Greeks invented drama. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and Will Smith earn millions today because of what the Greeks did twenty-five centuries ago. (xxix)

The Seagull Reader: Plays. Second Edition. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: Norton, 2009. Print.

I still haven't written those exam questions. The difference in approach between these two texts reminds me that I need to think more about what I offer my students to model and to think about. There's a lesson in balance here. Somewhere.

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