Undergraduate English Courses

358:248 Introduction to Tragic Literature

01  MW5   CAC   17676   BUCKLEY   MU-208

For almost three thousand years, tragedy has been esteemed as the highest form of western art, the one form in which the ecstasy and the suffering of the human condition find full expression. For the Greeks, tragedy constituted a link to the divine, and throughout the millennia that have followed tragedy has served as a privileged lens through which to confront problems of history, social change, personal suffering, and even the nature of the self. If, as Hamlet contends, the purpose of playing is to hold a mirror up to ourselves and our world, tragedy is the form taken by our most profound, searching examinations.

In this course we will explore the history, nature, and meaning of tragedy over time. We'll look at works produced in those contexts in which the tragic arts gained their greatest reputation (classical Greece, imperial Rome, Elizabethan England, France in the ancient régime) and we'll trace tragedy's echoing presence in the modern world, from the Romantic era to modern film and tv. And we'll read some of the greatest commentaries on what tragedy is and what it means, including texts by Aristotle, Goethe, Hegel, Nietzsche, and a host of modern critics and scholars. Our aim will be to explore not only what tragedy has meant and has been, but what is can mean and can be today, in a world where it seems often to no longer fit in.

Reading for the course will be fairly heavy. Requirements will be straightforward: occasional response paragraphs and a small set of essays. The size, number, and due dates of these will be crafted to students' individual preferences, interests, and capabilities.