Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG486H1S - L0101

ENG486H1S   L0101   T11-1
Tragedy: Classic Theories, New Approaches
Professor Alex Hernandez

Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, Room 912

Brief Description of Course: Few artistic genres inspire as much theorizing and discussion as tragedy; fewer have beentreated with more reverence. For much of its long history, tragedy has been seen as the prestige genre, a form whose elevation offers our most profound meditations on what it means to be human, what it means to suffer, indeed, what it means to find meaning in a world seemingly indifferent to our existence. Tragedy, in short, is one of literature’s “big ideas.”

Yet the past decade has seen a remarkable re-evaluation of tragedy’s history. A number of scholars, for example, have chipped away at the the transhistorical, transcultural, and essentializing models that have largely dominated our approach to the genre. Some, simply by tracing the capaciousness of what counted as “tragedy” in various eras, others by historicizing the classic theories that set apart the genre to begin with, while yet others interrogating the very assumptions that have been embedded in tragedy for so long that they seem natural.

This course is an exploration of some of these issues, and seeks to put several of the “classic”accounts of the genre in dialogue with some of this newer work. Students can expect to walkaway from the course with a clear grasp of the major issues that concern tragedy, having read several of the literature’s key works and debated them in seminar meetings each week. Along the way, we’ll also read a handful of tragic classics, redefining and refining our understanding of the genre. Is there a set of ideas that form the core of the genre? What’s essential, if anything, about it? How can new approaches to its questions revitalize long neglected texts? Is there a space for tragedy after modernity, or is the genre simply outdated?

First Three Authors: Texts: Aristotle, Sophocles, perhaps Euripides.

Method of Evaluation: Informed in-class participation (25%); weekly responses (25%); annotated bibliography (20%); final research paper (30%).

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