English 180T


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2020 Duncan, Ian
MWF 12-1 106 Wheeler

Book List

Aeschylus / Sophocles / Euripides: The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides ; Racine, Jean: Phedre / Phaedra; Rameau, Jean-Philippe: Hippolyte et Aricie; Shakespeare, William: Hamlet; Shakespeare, William: King Lear; Wagner, Richard: Die Walkure

Other Readings and Media

Video recordings / DVD of the operas (by Rameau, Wagner) and selected performances of some of our dramas will be available via b-Courses. A course reader will include readings in the theory of tragedy, from Aristotle to the present day.


An ancient (if not foundational) genre in the western literary tradition, tragedy is the one most closely linked with key religious and philosophical questions, due to its concern with catastrophic misfortune, suffering and fatality in human life. The persistence of the tragic has been accompanied by persistent debates about its essence or definition (downfall of a prince, collision of ethical imperatives, clash of anthropological orders, necessity—nature or the gods—versus free agency, etc.) and announcements of its demise (as irreconcilable with Christianity, modernity, bourgeois society, individualism, and so on). We will focus on some of the historical high points of tragic drama: classical Greek tragedy (Aeschylus, The Oresteia; Sophocles, the Theban cycle; Euripides, The Bacchae); Shakespeare (Hamlet and King Lear); French neoclassical and baroque tragedy (Racine’s Phèdre and Rameau’s operatic adaptation Hippolyte et Aricie); Wagnerian music drama (Die Walküre and, if we have time, Die Götterdämmerung). In the last couple of weeks of the course we will consider where tragedy can be found now, preferably outside the classical European tradition, and what forms it has taken: students will be tasked with nominating and selecting our case studies. Alongside tragic drama we will be considering major theories of the tragic (Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, Benjamin, etc.), included in a course reader.

The texts for the class will be available at University Press Books, on Bancroft Way.

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