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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Theatre Research Resources: Criticism and Reviews

A guide to help students researching topics in theatre.

Reviews vs. Criticism

In general terms, Reviews usually refer to analysis of live performances and Criticism refers to critique or analysis of the text of a play. We make this distinction here only because some library tools work better for finding one or the other of these, and some do both.

How to Search the Catalog for Criticism

One of the best ways to find works of criticism on theatre topics is running a subject search.  Subjects are assigned to items in strings that follow certain rules.  For this topic, your string should start with:

          Drama

          or

          Theater

If you search for "Drama" as a subject, it will return all related items. You can narrow these results by adding a time period:

          Drama -- 19th century or Drama -- 20th century

You can narrow this further and specifically target works of criticism:

          Drama -- 19th century -- History and Criticism

If you're still getting too many results or have something very specific in mind, you can narrow even further:

          Drama -- 19th century -- History and Criticism -- Bibliography

          Drama -- 19th century -- History and Criticism -- Periodicals

If you search for "Theater" you can add the phrase "History and Criticism" without a region or time period:

           Theater -- History and Criticism

You can also add information about a country or region

African drama - History and criticism

Theater - Nigeria (In English) - 20th Century

If you find that you're having difficulty using the catalog or finding the kind of information you're looking for, please don't hesitate to ask for help!

Finding Theatre Criticism and Reviews Online

While these theatre-related databases don't just search newspapers for reviews, they do include them. (Newspapers are another good source for reviews.)

How to Search Newspapers Online for Reviews

Newspapers are really good sources for reviews and criticism. Check Online Journals & Databases for individual paper titles, like the New York Times, or use the "News" tab of LexisNexis to search several papers at once.

You may also find that you need older papers than are available through the tools mentioned above. One of the best resources to use when looking for historical newspapers is ProQuest Historical Newspapers.  This will allow you to search any of the historic newspapers from New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C.

Some tips:

  • You can select the newspaper or newspapers that are the most relevant for your needs. The database will let you search more than one at a time but you can't search current and historical newspapers concurrently.
  • You can narrow your results by limiting the results to a particular time period.  This can be useful if you're looking for reviews specifically of a premiere or a later run.
  • It's best to formulate a search fairly carefully because you are searching a lot of information.  To make the search as effective as possible, search for as much as you know, like the title, playwright, or performers, in quotation marks with AND in between them.
    • Examples:  "The Children's Hour" AND "Lillian Hellman" or "Harold Pinter" AND "The Homecoming"
  • The quotation marks let the database know that you need those words to appear together and in that order, and the AND limits the results to articles containing both phrases.
  • Try searching for reviews by particular critics. Put the critic's name in quotation marks.  If you want, you can then add it to a search like the one above with a specific play in mind.

Finding Historic Reviews in Print Resources

These print resources are mostly collections of newspaper reviews, which can be searched by play, playwright, or performers. If you'd like to search by a specific playwright, however, you can also try looking in the various bio-bibliographies in the MPAL reference section under the Z8196's.