Since its inception in Ancient Greece and its first theorization by Aristotle in the Poetics, tragedy has been considered the highest literary genre, treating some of the most profound philosophical questions such as the limits of personal and social freedom, the relationship of the individual to society, and the nature of justice. This module will examine how the conventions of the genre were adapted to meet the challenges of representing new social conditions and understandings of reality from the late nineteenth century onwards. It will begin by exploring the innovations of naturalistic drama (Ibsen, Strindberg) before moving onto the 'high' Modernism of writers such as Beckett and Brecht, before concluding with the work of contemporary dramatists such as Churchill and Mamet. The module will also examine the work of modern and contemporary theorists of tragedy including Adorno, Nietzsche, Steiner, Szondi and Williams.
This module will be taught by means of one weekly two-hour seminar for ten weeks, which will be comprised of small group work and a student presentation.
Method of assessment
(Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)
Beckett, S. (2009) Endgame, London: Faber and Faber
Brecht, B. (1983) Mother Courage and Her Children, London: Methuen
Churchill, C. (2008) Top Girls, London: Bloomsbury
Ibsen, H. (2000) Hedda Gabler, in Plays: Two, London: Methuen
Mamet, D. (2004) Glengarry Glen Ross, London: Methuen
Strindberg, A. (1976) Miss Julie, in Plays: One, London: Methuen
See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
8.1 Demonstrate critical understanding of significant examples of modern tragedy from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries;
8.2 Display an understanding of the relationship between literary innovation and historical context;
8.3 Demonstrate familiarity with the key critical concepts to the understanding of tragedy as a literary genre from Aristotle to more current theoretical approaches;
8.4 Compare the recurring elements of tragic form between different historical periods, geographical regions and linguistic traditions;
8.5 Demonstrate close reading and analytical skills, including the application of critical thinking to the study of literature;
8.6 Conduct independent research, including critical responses to the primary reading list for the module.
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