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Tragedy: A Complete History

3. Greeks 3: Aristotle and Later Theory

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In this module, we think about the criticism of tragedy from the earliest period, focusing in particular on Aristotle, whose Poetics (c. 335 BC) provides us with an entire lexicon of critical terms, e.g. hamartia, anagnorisis, peripeteia, etc., but also later writers on tragedy, including Georg Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche.

– θέατρον (theātron), place for seeing, of assembly
– θεατής (theātēs), one who sees, contemplates
– θεατρίζομαι (theātrizomai), to be made a show of, held up to shame
– ἀγών (agōn), a gathering, assembly, place of contest
– ἀγωνία (agōnia), a struggle, contest for victory
– ἀγωνιστής (agōnistēs), a combatant
– δρᾶμα (drāma), deed, act
– πάθος (pathos), that which is done to, suffered by a person/thing
– χορός (choros), a dance
– ὀρχέομαι (orcheomai), to represent by dancing
– ὑποκρίνομαι (hupokrinomai), to play a part on stage
– ὓβρις (hubris), wanton violence, arising from the pride of strength
– ἁμαρτία (hamartia), error through ignorance
– ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō), to miss the mark, fail of purpose
– περιπέτεια (peripeteia), reversal, sudden change, unexpected event
– ἀναγνώρισις (anagnōrisis), recognition, revelation, not not knowing
– ἔκστασις (ekstasis), displacement, standing aside
– ἐκκυκλέω (ekkukleō), to wheel out, show, publish, divulge
– κάθαρσις (katharsis), cleansing, purification, purgation

Reading list:
– Aristotle, Poetics (c.335 BC)
– Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872)
– A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (1904)
– A. D. Nuttall, Why Does Tragedy Give Pleasure? (1996)
– Paul Hammond, The Strangeness of Tragedy (2009)
– T. J. Reiss, entry on Tragedy in The New Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics (4/e, 2012)


In this course, Professor John Lennard explores the history of tragedy from its origins in ancient Athens to the present day. In the first three modules, we think about the tragedy of Classical Athens, looking in particular at the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, before turning in the fourth module to Roman tragedy and Seneca the Younger. In the fifth module, we think about how the arrival of Christianity of Europe may have impacted people's views of tragedy in the Middle Ages, before turning in the sixth, seventh and eighth modules to the tragedy of the Renaissance period – including Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, Marston, Webster. After that, in the ninth module, we think the Restoration Tragedy of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, before moving on in the tenth module to consider the intersection between tragedy and Romanticism – looking especially at works of Lessing, Schiller, Goethe and Kleist. In the eleventh and twelfth modules, we think about the impact on tragedy of first a new medium – the novel – and then a new technology – the camera. In the thirteenth module, we think about tragedy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, looking especially at the work of Henrik Ibsen, before moving on in the fourteenth module to think about the relationship between tragedy and war – especially the First World War (1914-18). In the fifteenth module, we think about the tragedy and Modernism, looking in particular at the plays of Bertolt Brecht and novels of William Faulkner, before turning in the sixteenth module to think about how tragedy has represented the Sho'ah, i.e. the Holocaust. In the seventeenth module, we return to Modernism by thinking about the works of Lorca and Beckett, before moving on in the eighteenth module to look at tragedy in film and television. In the nineteenth module, we think about tragedy written by non-Western writers and in non-Western contexts, looking in particular at Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan (1956) and the works of the Yoruban writer, Wole Soyinka, before turning in the twentieth and final module to tragedy today and in the future.


Born in Bristol, and educated at Oxford and St Louis, Dr John Lennard has taught English, American, and Commonwealth Literature in Cambridge, London, and Jamaica over more than twenty years. He has written two widely used textbooks (on poetry and drama) and monographs on Shakespeare, Paul Scott, Nabokov, and Faulkner, as well as two collections of essays on contemporary genre writers in crime, science fiction and fantasy, and romance. Enthusiastic, discursive, widely knowledgeable, and a demon for punctuation (on which he has also published extensively), he has been a popular Summer School Course Leader and lecturer for the Institute of Continuing Education since 1992.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Lennard, J. (2018, August 15). Tragedy: A Complete History - Greeks 3: Aristotle and Later Theory [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Lennard, J. "Tragedy: A Complete History – Greeks 3: Aristotle and Later Theory." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,