Four research tips

October 11, 2011

For the research projects that you’re working on this week, a key to success is finding a link between the topic that you’re investigating and the play that this research will illuminate. Each category of topic comes with its own technique for finding the key to that connection.


I am not looking for a 300-word biography in Wikipedia style, which would show a complete lack of analysis and judgement. What smaller slice of the individual’s life experience would make for an interesting angle on the play, or illuminate something not clear through textual analysis? For example, isn’t it interesting that after the Bohrs escaped the Nazi purge of Copenhagen (discussed briefly in the play), Margrethe remained in Sweden for the duration of the war while Niels went to work on the Allied bomb project at Los Alamos? Perhaps the interview Margrethe gave in 1963, shortly after Niels Bohr’s death, might yield something interesting about her, or about her husband.

Theatrical genres

For the four topics under theatrical genres, the trick is to become familiar with one genre via the sources I listed for you and then think about how Copenhagen draws on elements of this genre. Copenhagen is an odd sort of play, in which the playwright, Michael Frayn, draws on a variety of theatrical styles. Knowing that symbolism is a movement associated with 1880s France is irrelevant, but the fact that the symbolists wanted to find a way of putting the spiritual, the dreamlike, and the unrealistic on stage is pertinent to Frayn’s technique and you could certainly write 300 words identifying the symbolist (or expressionist, or verbatim, or memory) elements in this play.

Performance history

The key here is to find something small and interesting to analyze in your 300-word essay: perhaps a choice about setting, or about characterization, or about cuts or interpolations.

Scientific context

Here, you will find that the index at the back of the book on, say, Los Alamos or the Manhattan project is your friend. Flip to the index to see if the book discusses Bohr and you might just have found your angle.