Ayn Rand held that art is an indispensable need of human life, an irreplaceable form of spiritual refueling. In this course, Leonard Peikoff selects eight masterpieces of world literature — eight plays from ancient Greece to the 20th century that are both philosophically rich and esthetically exceptional — and analyzes them as great works of drama and as works that implicitly convey complete philosophies of life.

For each play, Peikoff provides historical background and context. He then demonstrates how to identify the play’s essential conflict, its plot and character development and its deeper theme. Drawing on all these aspects, he then discusses the overall philosophy conveyed by the play (if not explicitly, then at least implicitly). The result is a unique exercise in philosophical detection and esthetic evaluation.

After completing this course, you will understand better how to reach a full, objective evaluation of an artwork, taking into account philosophical, esthetic and personal (optional) factors — and therefore how to grasp, evaluate and enjoy the objective values a great play offers.

Spoiler alert: Each lecture assumes that students have read the play that will be discussed in that lecture. Recommended editions are provided below.

Disclaimer: The course consists of audio recordings of lectures originally presented to an audience of Ayn Rand fans. (The first eight lectures were given in 1993; the ninth lecture, on Cyrano de Bergerac, was added in 1994.)

Recommended Editions:


Sophocles: The Oedipus Cycle, trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. Harvest [Harcourt]. 2002.


Othello, eds. Kenneth Muir et al. Penguin Shakespeare. Penguin, 2005.

Le Cid

Seventeenth-Century French Drama. Introduction by Jacques Guicharnaud. Random House/Modern Library, 1967.

Don Carlos

Friedrich Schiller: Plays: “Intrigue and Love” and “Don Carlos,” ed. Walter Hinderer. German Library. Bloomsbury, 1983.

An Enemy of the People

Eight Plays: Henrik Ibsen, trans. Eva Le Gallienne. Modern Library College Editions. McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Saint Joan

Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw. Penguin Classics. Penguin, 2001.

Monna Vanna

Monna Vanna: A Play in Three Acts, trans. Alexis Irénée Du Pont Coleman. Second Renaissance Press, 1993.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac, trans. Brian Hooker. Bantam Classics reissue. Bantam, 2004.