January 2021

The Bodies of Tragedy

Listed in: Classics, as CLAS-111  |  Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies, as SWAG-110


Frederick T. Griffiths (Section 01J)


Since its invention in Athens, tragic drama has focused upward on the great or mighty as they fall but also outward on the disempowered as they are for once given public voice: women, slaves, and barbarians. The cosmic forces of fate and the gods play out along social fault lines with conflicting viewpoints. We look to a “hero,” but, changing his mask, a Greek actor could go from god to wife to peasant. This multiplicity complicates itself in modern stagings and films as they cast actors with specific gender and racial identities. Female actors now have indisputable claim on the once-male roles of Antigone, Cassandra, Medea, and Electra, as they do on Shakespeare’s Juliet, Lady Macbeth, and Cleopatra.  

In this course we look at the performance of plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Shakespeare in their historical context, as well as at adaptations in film and dance. We also consider Rita Dove’s remaking of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King in The Darker Face of the Earth and, for the bodies of comedy, Spike Lee’s recasting of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in Chi Raq.   

The requirements are regular attendance and participation, brief before-class responses, and three essays.

The course aims to give students independent command of influential plays, as well as insight into the aesthetics and politics of putting contemporary bodies into classic roles. We consider and apply core concepts relating to the representation of gender, race, and sexuality.

The course will be taught in multiple sessions each day, both synchronous and asynchronous, along with the assigned films and filmed performances. Most days, there will be a brief interaction with the instructor about an observation or question about the reading. 

2.5 hours per day. Limit of 18. If over-enrolled, preference to first-year students and sophomores. 

If Overenrolled: Preference to first- and second-year students.


Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Writing, Online Only, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in January 2021, January 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022