SCANDINAVIAN 5.101: R5B: Persons/Personas, Session D: July 6 – August 14

M-Th 9-11 , 183 Dwinelle. Instructor: Margarita Gordon

Units: 4

All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the first half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

“Now the whole life of mortal men, what is it but a sort of play, in which various persons make their entrances in various costumes, and each one plays his own part until the director gives him his cue to leave the stage? Often he also orders one and the same actor to come on in different costumes, so that the actor who just now played the king in royal scarlet now comes on in rags to play a miserable servant. True, all these images are unreal, but this play cannot be performed in any other way.”

—Erasmus, The Praise of Folly (1511)

Considering that we tend to think of personas as extraneous to persons or personalities, it may come as a surprise that the word person etymologically derives from the word persona rather than the other way around. This Latin term refers to the masks originally worn by actors in Greek, and later Roman, drama, by which the audience was able to identify the characters (or types) they represented. At the same time, the holes in these masks amplified the sound of the actor’s own voices (per sonare meaning to sound through).

This class will be devoted to exploring personas as acts or roles that simultaneously conceal and reveal the people behind them and the collaborations between actors, directors, and audiences that underlie them. What personas, we will ask ourselves, are being crafted in our texts? Who crafts or projects them and to what personal, social, or philosophical ends? What influence do context and culture have? Are these impersonations performed successfully? How are multiple personas reconciled with one another, or with a “true” self? How, indeed, do we, or can we even, differentiate between the person and the persona?

Already in the Classical period, personas became associated not just with role-play in the theater but with role-play in everyday life. Thus, in exploring the personas featured on our syllabus, we can reflect on those all of us, whether or not we’re aware of it, perform in our own lives: in our various relationships, in our work, and online. Who are we, really?


Please purchase the following books at the Cal Student Bookstore or at a retailer of your choice. These particular editions of the texts are required:

  • Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust (New Directions; ISBN 978-0811218221)
  • Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, Rules for Writers (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 7th ed.; ISBN-10: 0312647360 or ISBN-13: 978-0312647360)

Our course reader will be available at ZeeZee Copy (2431-C Durant). It contains texts by Knut Hamsun, Peter Høeg, Søren Kierkegaard, Julio Cortázar, T. S. Eliot, Ovid, Erving Goffman, and Laura Mulvey, along with secondary sources.

You are required to view the following films in advance of our first class discussion of them if a screening has not been scheduled (and re-view them as you write about them). You may elect to purchase or rent them via Amazon or Netflix and you may also watch them for free at the Media Resource Center (in the basement of Moffitt Library).

  • Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo
  • Ingmar Bergman, Persona
  • Lars von Trier, Melancholia

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the first half or the “A” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement. The “A” course requirement (or its equivalent) is the prerequisite for the second half of this two-course sequence. Students may not enroll nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.