HUMS 385, The Deep: Representations of the Sea

Meeting Time: 
M 9:25am-11:15am + 1

Course Description: 

The sea covers over two-thirds of the earth’s surface. Only 20% of the ocean floor has even been mapped. Theater artists from Aeschylus to Alvin Ailey, other artists such as Homer, Melville, Dickinson, & Brathwaite, & contemporary marine biologists such as Edith Widder evoke the immensity, mutability, & mystery of the sea that surrounds us. Their work asks us questions about good & evil, life & death, the fate of the planet, & deep-sea bioluminescence.  Students from a range of majors – humanities, arts, STEM – are encouraged to apply.

Melville’s Moby-Dick is this seminar’s basso continuo, a protean novel ignored by readers when it was published in 1851, except for Nathaniel Hawthorne, who thought it extraordinary & told Melville so. Among much else, it combines the story of a whaler captain, Ahab, bent on revenge – to hunt down & kill the whale who’d earlier deprived him of a leg – with a pitiless indictment of the contradiction between America’s founding ideals & the institution of slavery.

You’ll read it all or as much of it as you can.  I’ll highlight particular chapters & sections as we go.  If you’re thinking of registering for this class, please get started on Moby-Dick during winter break.  

Led By:

Toni Dorfman's picture

Professor Toni Dorfman

At Yale since 1999 Toni Dorfman has taught acting, directing, and playwriting, and served as DUS in Theater Studies from 2003 to 2012. At Yale she’s taught production seminars in Beckett, Stoppard, Pinter, Orton, Wilder, Chekhov, and Molière. She oversees the annual Yale Playwrights Festival, which she cofounded in 2003 with Laura Jacqmin ‘04. For the Yale Baroque Opera Project she’s stage-directed a string of 17th-century Venetian operas in University Theater: Cavalli’s Giasone (2009), Sacrati’s La Finta pazza (2010, American premiere), Cavalli’s Scipione Affricano (2010, East Coast premiere), and two by Monteverdi – Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (2012), and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (2014) – all in collaboration with musical director Grant Herreid.

She’s acted and directed all over the country as well as in New York and is a member of SAG, Actors’ Equity, and SDC. In her twenties Dorfman co-founded the Shade Company, a repertory theater doing old and new plays by Plautus, Goldoni, Brecht, Betti, Ionesco, Don Ferguson, and Israel Horovitz, among others; the Shade was a charter member of the Off Off Broadway Alliance, now ART/NY.   

She holds a B.A. in philosophy (University of Iowa) and an MFA in theater  (Columbia University, 1990). Before Yale she taught at Spence, the University of Missouri–Kansas City, and Ohio University, where she led the School of Theater 1993-98. She’s served on the national board of directors of the University/Resident Theatre Association and the editorial board of Shakespeare Bulletin.       

Her first play, Rounding Cassiopeia, was optioned by the Bridewell in London. Her second, Family Wolf, was presented at the Soho Theater and Writers Centre in London and directed by Astrid Hilne. Other plays include The King of the CimbriOne of the Damned Few (co-written with Beckett actor Bud Thorpe and premiering in 2009 as part of the Yale World Performance Project), Third Wave Fems (directed by Stella Powell-Jones ’09 in New York in 2011), and Topology