English 6385: Tragic Drama and Modern Consciousness                              Summer 2009

Dr. Maria Doyle                                                                                              Session II

MW 2-4:30, Pafford 309


Office and Phone: TLC 2-248, 678-839-4853

Email: mdoyle@westga.edu

Office Hours: MW 12:30-1:45 and by appt.

Website: http://www.westga.edu/~mdoyle


Course Description:

Aristotle viewed tragedy as the highest form of literature, its subject matter being the fate of kings and their downfall through their own human error. Thus, traditional tragedy presents us with larger-than-life figures—people who are bigger, bolder, quite simply "more" than we are—but draws us to sympathize with them in their demise through our awareness both of a common humanity and of our socioeconomic distance from these powerful individuals. Most importantly, in this traditional formulation, tragic drama produces catharsis, allowing the audience to reaffirm their own safety by purging their fears through the sufferings of the characters.


The modern era has refocused this lens with a dramatic tradition that has responded to political upheaval, technological growth and the reorganization of the social body with a drama that is often resistant to closure and more interested in what Arthur Miller calls the "tragedy of the common man" than the fate of kings. Some critics have questioned whether tragedy in the classical sense can actually exist in the modern world, and the purpose of this course will be to interrogate both our assumptions about the construction of the tradition and to examine how modern writers have borrowed from and reshaped it.


This course will begin by examining “models” of traditional tragedy, using Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, which Aristotle called the perfect model of the form, as a starting point and going on to examine how other examples (for our purposes, Euripides’ Medea and Shakespeare's Othello) both reinforce and complicate our understanding of the genre. From there, we will examine a variety of modern and contemporary plays that ask us to question what "tragedy" as a genre has come to mean over the last hundred years. Discussions will focus on ways that writers have sought to appropriate elements of classical tragic form – the Greek chorus, for example – to new purposes, how modern drama has redefined its understanding of the tragic in response to the mass scale of twentieth century historical disasters, the frequent blending of tragedy and comedy on the modern stage, and what such changes suggest about the anxieties and complications of modern consciousness and modern theatre.


For information on learning outcomes and program goals, see http://www.westga.edu/~engdept/fr/CourseGuid/6385.html


Course Requirements:

Short Essay (10%): Students will complete a short 3-4 page essay based on a theoretical prompt. This assignment will acclimate students to applying course theory and will provide feedback on writing expectations for the course.


Oral Presentations (20%): Students will prepare two oral presentations during the semester, one a class presentation on a specific assigned play (students will sign up for specific dates) and the second a presentation on their research in progress for the research workshop (7/20).


Research Paper (50%): Students will complete a formal research project (min.15 pages) on a topic of their own devising related to the course material. Complete papers will follow current MLA guidelines. Approach this paper as a preliminary version of an academic article, your entry into the conversation represented by the secondary works on this seminar syllabus. Final papers will be assessed on the depth of your argument, your use of research materials and the quality of your writing.


Class Participation (20%): In a graduate seminar, active participation in discussions is of great importance. Students should have read both the primary and secondary texts before class meetings and must attend regularly; more than two absences will have a negative impact on your final grade. Most importantly, students are expected to contribute constructively to the conversation about the texts by asking questions and responding to ideas presented by both the instructor and other seminar participants.


Schedule of Readings

Students must purchase the specific assigned editions of the two Greek texts and of Shakespeare's Othello: the first two are texts in translation, and other translations will vary significantly, while the last is an annotated edition containing specific essays we will also use for discussion. Of the remaining course texts, you may purchase other editions (although it is recommended that you purchase the assigned edition, available in the campus bookstore, of A Streetcar Named Desire or one published relatively recently, as there is some variation in the text in early published editions). Most secondary material is available through the library's online course reserve system; secondary readings for the first week of class are available through other online sources rather than on course reserve. I may make adjustments to this schedule as needed; if so, these will be announced in class ahead of time.


Week 1: The Tradition of Tragedy: The Tragic Ideal

6/8       Defining the Tragic

            Aristotle, from The Poetics, Section I (http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.1.1.html)

            Charles Segal, "Ch. 1: Tragedy and the Civilizing Power" from Tragedy and Civilization (available online through NetLibrary; search item in the UWG library catalog)

6/10     Sophocles, Oedipus Rex (in Fagles, trans. Three Theban Plays)

            Secondary: Friedrich Nietzsche, from The Birth of Tragedy (available online through NetLibrary [trans. Douglas Smith]; search item in the UWG library catalog); pay particular attention to sections 1-5, 7-10, 21-24 (pp. 19-38, 42-62, 111-130).


Week 2: The Tradition of Tragedy: Variations on a Theme

6/15       Euripides, Medea (Grene and Lattimore, trans.)

              Secondary: Sarah B. Pomeroy, "Images of Women in the Literature of Classical Athens" from Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Mothers (online reserve); Michael Goldman, from On Drama (online reserve)

6/17       William Shakespeare, Othello (Norton Critical Edition, ed. Edward Pechter)

              Secondary: G.K. Hunter, "Othello and Colour Prejudice" (248-262) and Mark Rose, "Othello's Occupation: Shakespeare and the Romance of Chivalry" (275-289)


Week 3: Re-appropriating Ritual

6/22     T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

            Secondary: Mark Pizzato, "Redressing the Chorus: Nietzsche in Eliot" from Edges of Loss (online reserve); Clifford Davidson, "T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and the Saint's Play Tradition" (on reserve; optional)

6/24     Peter Shaffer, Equus

            Short essay due in class


In-class presentations will begin with Monday of this week (Eliot) and conclude Week 6 (Friel). Signups will take place the first day of class.


Week 4: Reconstructing the "Hero"

6/29     Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

            Secondary: Esther Jackson, "The Anti-Hero" from The Broken World of Tennessee Williams (online reserve); William Storm, "The Character of Dionysus" from After Dionysus (online reserve)

7/1       Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats…

            Last day to withdraw with a W


Week 5: Losing the Order of the World

7/6       Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

            Secondary: Martin Esslin, Chapter 1 from The Theater of the Absurd (online reserve); David Toole, from Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo: Theological Reflections on Nihilism, Tragedy and Apocalypse (online reserve)

7/8       Harold Pinter, Old Times

            Secondary: Stanton Garner, "Raiding the Inarticulate: Pinter and the Politics of Silence" (online reserve)

7/10     Research proposal due electronically


Week 6: Culture, History and Community

7/13     August Wilson, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

            Secondary: Harry J. Elam, Jr., "(W)righting History: A Meditation in Four Beats" from The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson (online reserve)

7/15     Brian Friel, Translations

            Secondary: W.B. Worthen, "Homeless Words: Field Day and the Politics of Translation" (online reserve)


Week 7: The Contemporary Moment

7/20     Student Research Workshop

7/22     Christopher Shinn, Dying City


Week 8: Conclusion

7/27     Last day

7/29     Research papers due by noon in hardcopy

English 6385-02

Course Policies:


Cell phones: Please turn cell phones off when you enter the classroom. Your time during class is committed to the class, and you may check messages at the break or outside of class hours.


Deadlines and Late Policy: Papers are due in the first ten minutes of class in hardcopy. Papers not received by this time will be considered late. My strictness regarding this particular policy stems from two considerations. First, if you are not in class, you are missing discussion and thus course material. In addition, it is disruptive to the class and distracting for both the instructor and other students to have others straggling in midway through the class period. Plan your schedule so that you can have papers printed and ready by the time class begins. No papers will be accepted over email, unless noted on the assignment sheet.


A late penalty of one half of a letter grade will be assessed for each day that a paper is late. Papers that are more than four days late (including weekend days and holidays) will receive an automatic "F." Extensions will be granted only if you have a verifiable medical or other sufficiently serious ("seriousness" will be determined at the instructor's discretion) excuse and you request an extension (in person, via email or phone) before the paper deadline. Regardless of your situation, no extensions will be granted beyond the four-day late period. Having papers or exams for other classes, a schedule conflict with work or other responsibilities, or simply being "swamped" are not sufficiently serious excuses and will not result in your being granted an extension. Late penalties for papers turned in outside of class will be assessed based on when I receive the paper, since if you do not hand it to me directly, I cannot verify when you turned it in.


Paper Format: All papers should be typed, double-spaced, in a standard 12 point font (preferably Times New Roman) with 1" top/bottom margins and 1-1.25" left/right margins. Big fonts, extra spaces between your paragraphs, and large margins are pretty easy to spot, so stick to the standard size guidelines and use the revision process to help you generate enough information to present a clear and well-reasoned analysis within the designated space limitations. Papers are required to have inline citations where appropriate and a descriptive title (i.e. not "Oedipus" but "The Chorus as Audience in Oedipus"), and you must number your pages and staple (NOT paper clip, glue, or origami fold) them together. Title pages are unnecessary; simply include your name, the course number and the date in the top right corner of your first page.


Outside Sources and Academic Honesty: Academic dishonesty involves any attempt on your part to claim ideas and/or specific phrasing that you have gotten from elsewhere – including, but not limited to, Wikipedia, the dictionary, The New York Times, online notes sites, an article you found that just sounds "better" than you think you could say it or your Aunt Sally – as your own or to fabricate sources or evidence so as to make your argument sound stronger. Plagiarism thus includes actions such as copying papers or online responses from the internet or other sources, cheating on exams, turning in work written by someone else or turning in work that you previously submitted for another course. All work that you turn in for this course must be your work completed in this semester in response to an assignment for this class; course assignments are designed to help you develop a set of skills, not just produce information, and failure to do your own work both shortchanges you in this skill development process – rather like attempting to play basketball or sculpt a piece of wood without mastering the dribble or learning about your tools – and violates the shared trust of this course. Academic dishonesty is a serious offense, and plagiarizing any assignment or part thereof, regardless of the relative value of the assignment in the calculation of your course grade, will result in failure of the course. In keeping with departmental and university honor policies, all cases of academic dishonesty will be reported both to the Chair of the English Department and to the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs. In short, do your own work and when you use outside information, provide accurate citations for it. For more on the English Department's plagiarism policy, see http://www.westga.edu/~engdept/Plagiarism/pladef.html.


Special Needs: If you have a registered disability that will require accommodation, please see me at the beginning of the semester; I will be happy to discuss your situation. If you have a disability that you have not yet registered through the Disabled Student Services Office, please contact Dr. Ann Phillips in Student Development (678-839-6428).




Honor Statement (student copy):


I have read the course statement on academic honesty. I understand this statement and the university's honor policy and commit myself to the principles of academic integrity in my work for this class. I pledge that all material I will submit for credit in this class will be my own work.




(Detach and return)


Honor Statement (course copy):


I have read the course statement on academic honesty. I understand this statement and the university's honor policy and commit myself to the principles of academic integrity in my work for this class. I pledge that all material I will submit for credit in this class will be my own work.



___________________________________              ______________________________

Signed                                                                         Name (Print)