The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
05 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

'We are not looking for a new universal meaning of tragedy. We are looking for the structure of tragedy in our own culture.'

Raymond Williams, Modern Tragedy.

This module examines the idea of Tragedy in the theatre, tracing its development from classical Greek tragedy to the present day. The module concentrates on the structure of Tragedy and investigates ways in which it has developed over time and how it influences current ideas about contemporary plays.

The texts that have been chosen both acknowledge and question the influence of Aristotle's Poetics. The module explores the extent to which Aristotle's theories still articulate enduringly useful ideas about tragedy; and the extent to which they have been modified, altered, played with and rejected by playwrights over the ages. We ask whether there is an essential and timeless set of qualities that constitutes 'tragic drama', or whether notions of 'tragedy' are contingent on social and historical circumstances. We look at private and domestic tragedies, as well as public and political tragedies from different periods, examining the connection between the two.

The module investigates how playwrights have adapted tragic forms and structures to make theatre that explores suffering and catastrophe. Using Aristotle's Poetics as its starting-point, the Module also explores what the effect is on an audience member watching a tragic play.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

1. To equip students with the appropriate analytical skills to enable them to understand three aspects of the tragic form.

2. To examine in detail nine tragedies that range from Ancient Greek tragedies to contemporary tragedies.

3. To equip students with an understanding of Aristotle’s ideas about the ‘peripiteia’ and the ‘anagnorises’.

4. To equip students with an understanding of Aristotle’s ideas about ‘Hubris’ and ‘Hamartia’

Module learning outcomes

At the end of the module, students will:

1. Have developed a critical understanding of Aristotle’s ideas about the way a tragic plot can be constructed

2. Be able to understand and use the terms: anagnorises, peripiteia, hubris and hamartia appropriately

3. Be able to identify and critically evaluate three plays that do not conform to Aristotle’s ideas

4. Have developed a critical understanding and analysed the nine tragedies on the reading list.

Module information

Week by week schedule

Autumn Term:

Introduction to Greek tragedy (Weeks 2-5)

These first weeks introduce students to some of the basic ideas behind Greek tragedy and links them to some of the concepts Aristotle writes about in his Poetics

Week 2: Introduction to Module, and to Tragedy: Aristotle, Poetics and the introduction to Medea (specifically the Chorus)

Week 3: Medea: Euripides (Tragedy and Revenge)

Week 4: Antigone: Sophocles (Tragedy and Justice)

Week 5: Oedipus Rex: Sophocles (Tragedy and Justice)

Contemporary Tragedy Weeks (6-8)

These three weeks look at three very powerful contemporary tragedies examining ways in which they are different to Greek tragedy.

Week 6: Frozen: Bryony Lavery

Week 7: Festen: Thomas Vinterberg, Mo"¡gens Rukov and Bo hr. Hansen, (version by David Eldridge).

Week 8: Cleansed: Sarah Kane

Weeks 9 and 10 examine two powerful American tragedies

Week 9: A View from the Bridge: Arthur Miller

'Tragedy and the Common Man' and 'The Nature of Tragedy', in The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller.

Week 10: A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams,

Week 11: Essay workshop. Trouble shooting essay difficulties

Essay deadline: First day of the Spring Term

Spring Term

This Spring we look at other variations of Tragic form:

Week 17: Fences August Wilson

Week 18: Death and the King's Horseman: Wole Soyinka

Week 19: People, Places and Things: Duncan Macmillan

Week 20: Death and The Maiden: Ariel Dorfman

Week 21: Theatre Performance (No classes this week)

Week 22: Othello: Shakespeare

Week 23: Script dramaturgy with student playwrights.

Week 24 Script dramaturgy with student playwrights

Week 25: Performance of tragedies written by students.

Week 26: Performance of tragedies written by students.

Deadline for submission of script plus commentary: First day of summer term

Summer Term:

Essay date of submission t.b.c.

Weeks 30 and 31: Revision and essay workshops

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: Weekly 2-hour seminars We will offer a mixture of tailored online, digital, and campus-based teaching where it may be possible and as appropriate, along with personalised one-to-one consultation with academic staff.


  • Taylor, Don; Varakis, Angie; Sophocles. (2006) Antigone, London: Methuen Drama. vol. Methuen student editions
  • Eldridge, David; Vinterberg, Thomas; Hausen, Bo; Rukov Mogens. (2004) Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov and Bo hr. Hansen's Festen, London: Methuen.
  • Lavery, Bryony. (2002) Frozen, London: Faber and Faber.
  • Walton, J. Michael; McDonald, Marianne; Euripides. (2002) Medea, London: Methuen.
  • McLeish, Kenneth; Aristotle. (1999) Poetics, London: Nick Hern Books. vol. Dramatic contexts
  • Miller, Arthur. (2000) Death of a salesman: certain private conversations in two acts and a requiem, London: Penguin. vol. Penguin classics

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay (2,500 words)    95% 
Practical   Participation    5% 
Practical   Presentation (class-based formative, no written assignment)    0% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Jonathan Lichtenstein, email:
Professor Jonathan Lichtenstein
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Karen Savage
University of Lincoln
Head of School
Available via Moodle
Of 40 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
40 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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