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  • Term Mode
  • Semester 2Campus Attendance





Unit rationale, description and aim

Tragedy is one of the most vital and enduring of cultural forms. This unit will introduce students to individual works often classified as tragedies, as well as to cultural, philosophical, and imaginative responses to the tragic. The selection of texts will involve works traditionally classified as tragedies but could also include explicit responses to specific tragic works, such as the readings of Sophocles’ Antigone by the philosopher Hegel and the feminist theorist Judith Butler, or the adaptation of Euripides’ Bacchae by the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka. Students might also consider thinkers who open a shared perspective upon a tragic point of view, or they might investigate artists and thinkers who have directly responded to tragedy or opened up new perspectives on the nature of tragic freedom. Students may even study works of music either explicitly or implicitly connected to tragedy, or the tragic in relationship to visual art.

The aim of this unit is for students to acquire a research-intensive knowledge of tragedy as it has revealed itself in art, culture, and thought. Such a practice will further our understanding of the past and present in all their tragic dimensions.  

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Acquire a graduate-level, research-based knowledge of tragedy and the tragicGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12
LO2Interpret tragedy as genre and modeGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12
LO3Critically evaluate and synthesise knowledge, concepts, and theories from diverse sources and communicate complex ideas and findings with sophistication and confidence to a range of audiences in diverse contextsGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12
LO4Research and apply disciplinary theories and practices to a range of bodies of knowledge drawn from tragedy or responses to tragedyGC1, GC2, GC3, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12


Topics may include:

  • The Origins of Tragedy
  • Why does Tragedy give Pleasure?
  • The Nature of Catharsis
  • The Tragic Protagonist
  • Senecan Tragedy: The Theatre of Blood
  • Medieval Conceptions of Tragedy
  • The Philosophy of Tragedy
  • Tragedy and the Modern
  • Tragedy and the Visual Arts
  • Tragedy and Music

Authors or texts may include:

  • Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides
  • Plato, Symposium, Phaedrus, and Cratylus
  • Aristophanes, Frogs
  • Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Seneca (e.g. Thyestes; Medea)
  • Boccaccio, De casibus virorum illustrium
  • Chaucer, Troilus & Criseyde
  • Shakespeare
  • Middleton and Rowley, The Changeling
  • Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
  • Calderón
  • Racine
  • Pascal
  • Milton
  • Goya, Caravaggio
  • Kant, Hegel, Hölderlin, Kierkegaard
  • Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
  • Wagner, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler
  • Ibsen, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett
  • George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy
  • Judith Butler
  • Wole Soyinka

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is designed and delivered in a small-group attendance mode which facilitates the use of the Socratic method. The Socratic method promotes active and receptive dialogue in which students are encouraged to think for themselves rather than passively receive information, doctrines, or positions.  Rather than ratify ideologies, received ideas, and disciplinary norms in an unquestioning manner, the Socratic method potentially opens every ideological, disciplinary, and critical assumption to question.   

In addition to the close reading of a range of texts, narratives, essays, and art objects, students will participate in writing activities, the interpretation and evaluation of texts, and critical and argumentative debates. 

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support learning such as reading, reflection, discussion.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This 600-level unit is designed to include assessment tasks that build content knowledge and higher-order research and analytic skills. 

The close reading task requires students to challenge norms of a discipline or genre. For example, it is typical to see Immanuel Kant as belonging to the discipline of philosophy, Sophocles as belonging to a literary discipline. However, when Hegel offers a reading of Sophocles’ Antigone in the Phenomenology of Spirit in terms of Kant’s idea of human freedom, he offers a conception of the tragic that transcends the distinction between philosophy and literature. A close reading of Hegel, Kant, or Sophocles could therefore question and challenge the norms of these individual disciplines. The student will be encouraged to find other moments like these: moments when a text, under close scrutiny, does not ratify the boundaries between disciplines. 

The research essay task develops the ability to propose an argument with theoretical and critical acuity, and to locate and evaluate sources on tragedy, developing a sustained evidence-based argument, and active rethinking of key debates across more than one discipline. The student will propose the topic for the research essay task in consultation with the instructor.

All tasks are designed as well to promote an advanced, integrated, research-based knowledge and the ability to evaluate critically and synthesise knowledge, concepts, and theories from diverse sources. Finally, it also demands that the student communicate complex ideas and findings with sophistication and confidence to a range of audiences in diverse contexts. 

Minimum Achievement Standards

The assessment tasks and their weighting for this unit are designed to demonstrate achievement of each learning outcome. In order to pass this unit, students are required to submit all assessment tasks, meet the learning outcomes of the unit and achieve a minimum overall passing grade of 50%.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Assessment Task 1: Close reading: challenging disciplinary norms

This task requires students to produce analyses that challenge disciplinary norms.


LO1, LO2

Assessment Task 2: Research Essay

This task requires students to produce a theoretically acute, graduate-level, interdisciplinary analysis on a topic proposed in consultation with the instructor.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Representative texts and references

Butler, Judith, Antigone’s Claim (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002)

Cadman, Daniel, The Genres of Renaissance Tragedy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019)

Choi, Mina, ‘Revision of Euripides’ Tragedies by Contemporary Women Playwrights’, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013.

Coletti, Theresa, et. al., eds, A Cultural History of Tragedy in the Middle Ages (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020)

Goldmann, Lucien, The Hidden God: A Study of Tragic Vision in the Pensées of Pascal and the Tragedies of Racine (London: Verso, 2016)

Nevitt, Marcus, and Tanya Pollard, eds., Reader in Tragedy: An Anthology of Classical Criticism to Contemporary Theory (London: 2019)

Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, ed. and trans. by Raymond Geuss and Ronald Spiers (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 1999)

Soyinka, Wole, The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973)

Unamuno, Miguel de, The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021)

Williams, Raymond, Modern Tragedy (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1966)

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