"The tragedy of life is what makes it
. . . [A]ny life which merits
lies in the effort to realize some dream, and the higher
that dream is the harder it is to realize. .
The only success is in failure. Any man who has a big enough dream
must be a failure and must accept this
as one of the conditions
of being alive.
If he ever thinks for a moment that
he is a success, then he is finished."
in Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O'Neill (NY: Dell, 1965), p.
LITR 4370 spring 2017
Thursdays 1-3:50; Bayou 2237
reading & meeting schedule
maps for Tragedy
What do we know or think when we say "tragic" or
"tragedy?" How do we use the words "tragic" or
"tragedy" in everyday speech?
1a. How does colloquial use differ from literary use? (Compare to
2. What do you already know about tragedy? What is the status of tragedy
in schools compared to popular culture? Why is tragic drama (Greek or
Shakespearean) taught in secondary
schools, esp. in Advanced
Placement and College Prep?
What does our civilization owe to classical Greece? What conflicts with
later religion? What cooperation or co-evolution? (Two mainstreams of Western
4. How does teaching of theater or drama compare to teaching
Aeschylus's Oresteia Trilogy (458
& O'Neill's Mourning
Becomes Electra (1931 CE)
"Mask of Agamemnon"
Discussion questions for Agamemnon:
Agamemnon starts and builds
slowly, but what kinds of audience pleasures may grow with it? How does the
play challenge you not only to take some kind of pleasure but also to learn? (literature entertains and
You may not know the story of the Trojan War, Helen of Troy, Agamemnon, and Cassandra,
but the audience at Athens knew it. What difference in experience if you know
the story or not beforehand? (When we go to a movie, how much do we
already know the story beforehand?)
3. Everyone can agree that Agamemnon sacrificing his
daughter Iphigenia is horrible, but in the spirit of
how is it that he's not just a villain or a bad guy as in
Contrast the different appeal of Cassandra's appearance—How does
Cassandra appear more as a
romance character, in this case
the "innocent victim?"
How may the initial appearance by the guard be potentially comical? (See
wit & humor;
5. Uses or repression of
parts I, IV: What is imitation or
mimesis and what does it have to do
7. Nietzsche's Birth
of Tragedy: Distinguish the
and Dionysiac in Nietzsche's language and your own.
2 February 2017:
(Review Agamemnon, read excerpts of
Libation Bearers & Eumenides)
The Libation Bearers
(excerpts); Discussion leader:
parts V, VI; Discussion: Instructor
Birth of Tragedy presentation,
Chapter 1, pp. 14-18;
Birth of Tragedy Glossary;
comedy Presenter: Caly Rosene
comedy, Poetics, & personal example)
didactic literature, Western
Libation Bearers as epigraph to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
art depicting the Oresteia
of Oresteia (masks)
presentations, preview midterm1, esp.
narrative genres; Aristotle on comedy
comedy in Agamemnon
Oresteia trilogy > assignments
Areopagus, Eumenides l. 720
Purposes of Literature:
to Entertain & Instruct; Birth of Tragedy
Discussion questions for Oresteia
1. As a trilogy:
What pleasures or attractions do the 3 plays together offer to an audience?
Compare "sequels?"—as in Star Wars,
What difference to tragedy if it's part of a trilogy? How do the second and third
plays change the impact of Agamemnon
or our definitions of tragedy?
2. Libation Bearers:
How does Electra model the "Electra
Complex" relative to the
3. Euminides: How "tragic" is the ending of
Eumenides & the Oresteia trilogy? Compare to
end of comedy in
narrative genres. Why or how
can it all still be a tragedy if everyone doesn't just die at the end?
What does the trilogy achieve in terms of classical Greece as a foundation
of Western Civilization? If the Furies or
Vengeful Ones are changed into Eumenides or Kindly Ones, what
progress has been made?
Consider: revenge culture > peace and prosperity? [Ag 1772-3, 1803-4,
555, 899, 905]
humans are aggressive, vengeful, defensive, protective, friends & enemies,
us vs. them; civilization creates institutions & practices like courts that mitigate
extremes, balances interests, compromise conflicting values, make
restitution (revenge culture is Dionysiac? Judicial culture Apolline?)
Electra & Orestes
Homecoming / Mourning
Chorus: Seth, townspeople
Choruses: Argive elders,
captive women, & Furies
Ezra Manning =>
Lavinia (Vinnie) =>
Adam Brant =>
Marie Brantome or Hazel
Cassandra, or Helen of Troy?
Homecoming: updating Agamemnon
part 1 of Mourning Becomes Electra, pp. 257-317
in Eugene O'Neill: Three Plays;
instructor (The Homecoming roughly
equals the Agamemnon part of the Oresteia)
parts VII-XI; Discussion: Instructor
Birth of Tragedy presentation,
Chapter 7, pp. 35-40
Birth of Tragedy Glossary;
Film / video preview for
Oedipus Rex (instructor)
Mourning Becomes Electra (1947 film);
RFK & MLK;
The Furies (1950
midterm1 part 3 & samples
RFK & MLK; Agamemnon l. 211; wisdom and suffering
Eugene O'Neill life, style,
Birth of Tragedy:
chapter 1 > Clark, ch. 7
midterm1 parts 1 & 2 + samples
review comedy, comic theory,
The Oresteia in New England after
the Civil War instead of Argos after the Trojan War. How has Tragedy changed
in 2500 years? (Tragedy Modernizes;
exam special topic 1.)
status of tragic characters becomes less royal, more human;
psychological obsessions and complexes replace fate or will of the
spectacle & stage machinery more common but still managed carefully
narrative genres mix (esp.
2. Look for spectacle, chorus, role of Agamemnon / Ezra Manning + other
One change is Freudian psychology, including the "Electra Complex"—the
feminine version of the Oedipal Complex. How do
tragedy and psychology
always end up meeting each other? (even if the Electra Complex is not
necessarily good psychology)
One continuity (more or less) is masks—O'Neill experimented
w/ masks in
many plays, and Mourning Becomes Electra constantly refers to masks.
first midterm (Midterm1)
due b/w Friday 17 February & Tuesday 21 February (Midterm 1)
Sophocles's Theban Trilogy:
Oedipus the King [c.
420 BC], Antigone
[c. 442 BC], & Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipal Family Circus
1. In what ways is Oedipus the King like a detective story? In what
ways essential to tragedy does
Background: "Detective stories" remain a popular variation on the
in which a conflict is introduced or social order is disturbed, evil is
projected on a villain, and social order is restored with the villain's
2. Oedipus the King is often proclaimed
the greatest classical tragedy, but no one calls it a friendly play, and
in fact it's rarely performed. What are the obstacles to enjoying this play?
What types of pleasure are possible? Why is it so difficult to
identify or sympathize with Oedipus as a tragic hero?
Oedipus the King isn't a friendly play, the
is also an unattractive subject, but it's also the way Sophocles's play
is remembered. Why do literary texts and literary studies keep representing
and discussing a repulsive story or subject like the
Oedipus Complex? Why has
professional Psychology left this concept behind?
4. Oedipus as a character is often discussed in terms of fate vs. free
will, and the "tragic flaw" or
hamartia. How can we
tragic flaw? How does it relate to the mixed characterization of tragedy?
(Compare to good guy-bad guy
Discussion questions: Overall, how does the progression from
Oedipus the King (420BCE) and Hamlet (1601CE) exemplify how tragedy
1. How much is
spectacle repressed or indulged
in the conclusions to Oedipus the King and Hamlet? (Tragedy Modernizes)
2. Since narrative genres mix
more in as tragedy
modernizes, how may Hamlet show more of a mix of genres
than Oedipus the King?
3. How well do the conclusions to
Oedipus the King and Hamlet conform to the
appropriate conclusion for the
4. How can we deal with the Oedipal Conflict besides repressing its discussion?
Since it's a gross-out subject but it seems to matter, how can we
discuss productively or appropriately?
5. How are both
Oedipus the King and Hamlet
like or unlike a detective story? What do tragedies gain or
lose by comparison to
romance narratives like detective stories?
6. Question re periods: If tragedy arises during great or imperial
periods of history, how may the Elizabethan England of Hamlet
resemble the Athens of Greek drama? (Greatness
A generation ago,
Oedipus the King was the standard "classical
tragedy" read in secondary schools. Today the tragedy of choice is Antigone,
more popular to teach as classical tragedy in schools today—why? What are
its appeals compared to Oedipus the King? How does Antigone
feel more popular and appear more modern? (tragedy
elements, such as Antigone as oppressed underdog, Creon as
patriarchal villain, suicide as transcendence. Compare Antigone
to Romeo & Juliet as "romantic
tragedy" or "tragic romance."
Antigone is the first-written of Sophocles's Theban plays. How does the conclusion
seem like a young writer's? e.g.,
melodramatic or "over-the-top" end to
Antigone & Haemon? Too obvious and sweeping a change for Creon?
Only men wrote Greek tragedies, but women often appear as central
characters. What conflicts or responsibilities do they represent that
make their lives appropriate subjects for tragedy? In Antigone,
for instance, how do the title character's gender-conflicts expose
larger problems in Thebes and its leadership?
Who is the play's tragic hero? Antigone or Creon? How much does Creon's
tragic flaw appear as a crisis of masculinity?
4. How comical (or potentially comic) are the Guard's repeated
appearances? ll. 256 ff., 366, 385, 432-450
16 March 2017: No class meeting—Spring Break!
Oedipus@Colonus w/ Ismene
Confession: Even when your instructor first read
Oedipus at Colonus at age 20, it was immediately my favorite
tragedy ever, and every re-reading impresses anew how efficiently
develops the plot, how one scene leads to the next, how the scenes build
to the semi-"transcendent" conclusion, and how different genre-styles enhance feeling.
Oedipus at Colonus:
The Furies are back! (These spirits of revenge pursued
Orestes in the Oresteia. Here, the grove where
Oedipus & Antigone rest is sacred to Furies, who would naturally be
scandalized by Oedipus's crimes.)
1. Compare the chorus's and audience's potential
catharsis of "pity and fear"
for Oedipus to
our reactions to the same
character in Oedipus the King.
Since modern audiences typically have a hard time caring about Oedipus as
King, what changes our attitudes to him in this play?
2. Oedipus acts helpless, but how helpless is he really,
and how much is he controlling the
action? How convincing are his speeches justifying his past sins? Evidence of
2a. Continuing #2, what about Oedipus's character
is revealed by his cursing of Polyneices? Why is the scene so powerful and meaningful? Compare to
Bible's parable of the Prodigal
Son? (Potential contrast of Abrahamic and
Classical Greek-Roman ethics)
2b. Since Antigone is Oedipus's true child, compare
her character in
Oedipus at Colonus to her character in
3. How does Oedipus's death resemble the conclusion of a
romance as transcendence? (narrative genres)
3a. Compare conclusion to conclusion of the Oresteia
trilogy in The Eumenides?
4. Discuss spectacle in
Oedipus at Colonus's
finale or elsewhere in play? What advantages to showing or not showing
rescues, divine actions, etc.?
5. Not to press comparisons to diminishing returns, but how might
Oedipus's resolution appear Christ-like or compatible with the Christ story?
(This potential analogy is partly encouraged by the translator's use of biblical
Oedipus repudiating Polyneices
30 March 2017:
Second Midterm (Midterm2)
(email submission window 25 March-3 April)
Tragedy Dies! or Modernizes?
with Racine's Phaedra
& O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms
Other dramatic versions: Seneca (Rome, 4BCE-65CE), Phaedra
(app. 54CE); Sarah Kane (1971-99), Phaedra's Love (1996)
1. If you like
Hippolytos, why? What's
modern and popular about
Euripides? What remains classical? Does he indulge or repress
Spectacle or the
How do Nietzsche's complaints about Euripides inform our questions and
discussions? What risk or gains in describing popular art as decadent? (tragedy
1a. Since Nietzsche (ch. 11) describes Euripides as
the death of tragedy and the birth of
New Attic Comedy (the forerunner
of the situation comedy or sit-com),
how and where is
Hippolytus either comic or almost
2. What made Euripides the most popular of the great Greek playwrights
for later audiences? If schoolteachers (and Nietzsche) prefer for
students to admire Aeschylus and
Sophocles, what about Euripides's plays appeals more immediately?
2a. Consider Euripides's sympathetic depictions of women and
potentially alt-gendered characters like Bacchus, Pentheus, Hippolytus,
Poetics on Euripides:
"[T]hey are in
error who censure Euripides just because . . . his plays . . .
It is . . . the right ending. .
. . Euripides, faulty
though he may be in the general management of his subject, yet is felt to be the
most tragic of the poets. . . ." Aristotle is
negatively about Euripides's style, but positively about his power?
Also XVIII. " . . . The
should be regarded as
one of the
actors; it should be an integral part of the whole, and
share in the action, in
the manner not of Euripides but of Sophocles." How does
Euripides use the chorus differently from Sophocles? (Examples from
Hippolytos and Bacchae.)
Euripides with character in Aeschylus and Sophocles.
Nietzsche justified in criticizing Euripides for losing the mythic and
Dionysian grandeur of Aeschylus & Sophocles?
14 April 2017:
mythic & scriptural texts for
Hippolytus & Phaedra;
(Question: What impact or interest in knowing these backgrounds?)
Birth of Tragedy presentation,
Chapters 12-13, pp. 59-67
Birth of Tragedy Glossary;
Classical Greek Poets &
Is Tragedy the Greatest
Desire Under the Elms
revival ad; as
Chinese opera (instructor)
commercial (England National Theatre
2009, starring Helen Mirren);
Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie (1683-1764; 1733, 1742)
midterms, finals, assignments, backgrounds
continue Phaedra discussion (changes, modernization)
Birth of Tragedy:
1.Compare / contrast Racine's
mostly the same characters and story line,
but what changes? What fills out? What variations or additions in genre?
Phaedra (1677) appears app. 2000 years after
Hippolytus, how may it be more modern?
How is it not modern? (Tragedy Modernized)
3. What impact from adding
characters like Aricia or
Ismene? (esp. Aricia as romance, & Oenone as comedy?) (Different Ismene than
Oedipus's sister / daughter, in this case the "nurse" or servant to Phaedra)
4. What is the impact of more
genre-mixing, esp. mixing tragedy with
5. How does the
Oedipal Conflict factor into
the story of Phaedra (and, possibly, similar stories of "cougars" or
older women-younger men stories).
21 April 2017:
begin Desire Under the Elms
Video presentation: Desire Under the Elms
(lines 1431-1776): Clark Omo
Question(s) for conclusion of
How does Bacchae
Hippolytus as a work by Euripides and
not by Aeschylus and Sophocles? What attractions or misgivings regarding
Euripides? How are
(13c, 18b) and Nietzsche's criticisms of Euripides
assignments, final exam & romance
Birth of Tragedy, Medea, & Bacchae: instructor
for 22 & 29 April:
1. Desire Under the Elms makes
no direct allusions to the
Hippolytus / Phaedra or Joseph /
Yusuf / Master's Wife
sources, but what continuities or
differences between Desire Under the Elms, Hippolytus, and
Phaedra? How has
more modern? (Tragedy Modernized)
2. Identify religious elements like prophecy, the supernatural, or
the Dionysiac. Is Cabot's God as human as the Greek gods?—that
is, a divine reflection or embodiment of human impulses and desires?
does the Oedipal Conflict find expression through the
archetype? Or are there other possibilities for interpreting this
persistent narrative pattern?
4. Identify appearance
of other genres:
and the grotesque. (esp.
Ephraim's dance, & the brothers Simeon & Peter; may the brothers
also act as a chorus?)
in the conclusion (within limits) (romance narrative conclusion =
5. How and where is spectacle
revealed or repressed?
6. Identify elements of
Expressionism in O'Neill's style. (The
7. Can Desire Under the Elms be
characterized as Dionysiac?
4 May 2017:
students may take in-class or by email; instructor holds office hours during
for email submission of final exam is Friday evening,
Final grades posted & final
grade reports emailed 5-10 days after submission.
Objective 1. To
read classical and later examples of
The 3 great
Greek tragedians: Aeschylus,
Sophocles’s Theban Trilogy incl.
Oedipus the King, Antigone
and Oedipus at Colonus
later tragic drama based on or comparable
to their plays
Objective 2. To
"genres" not as rules but as an adaptable
system for classifying art and its reception
narrative genres—the “contract with the audience” for how a story
begins, proceeds, and ends
an associated term in
critical thinking is taxonomy,
the science or technique of arrangement,
order, or classification
to arrange, put in order
(a.k.a. expectations, norms, standard features, "contract with reader")
dramatic art as
"imitation," mimesis, or dialogue
learn Tragedy as, ironically, the least popular but greatest
3a. Historical terms of tragedy
not when a nation or
people are depressed but when they are confident and enterprising. In
contrast, when anxiety and uncertainty unsettle a people or nation, they
turn to more popular or escapist genres like comedy and romance.
Under what circumstances may tragedy thrive?
Greece as birthplace of modern
and western civilization: What part did Tragedy play?
3b. Aesthetic values and terms for tragedy
Aesthetics and ethics of Tragedy: How can audiences enjoy tragedy, and
why might it do us good?
Can taste be educated? People naturally like
romance, adventure, spectacle, and happy endings, but can they learn to
appreciate the subtler, less natural, more rigorous pleasures of
Contrast the push-button emotions of
sentimentality, escapism, triumph.
If the purpose of literature is entertainment plus
education, do we learn more from Tragedy?
To assert the purpose of tragic art
for a “feel-good” society.
balance art's competing or complementary values of "liking" and "learning."
Is it possible to defend a genre for being less
popular? Can being less popular be a positive quality? On what grounds
can such an anti-democratic value be defended?
Aesthetic terms for tragedy
Forbidden idea: people like tragedy
b/c they like to see others who are worse off than they are.
write this but never provide evidence. The mistake confuses tragedy with
Subjects of Tragedy—non-escapist!
Sophocles or Prof. White?
The Tragedy of the
Greek Tragedy and the Ancient Stage, by John Porter, U. of Saskatchewan
Peter Meineck, Greek Theater Production (includes bibliography)