January 2022

The Bodies of Tragedy

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


Frederick T. Griffiths (Section 01J)


(Offered as CLAS 111 and SWAG 110) 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 Cleopatra. The dialects of tragic performance are multiple: translationese, Shakespeare, and Spanglish.

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 remakings of the myths within modern realities, including Antigone in Ferguson; Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth (Oedipus); and Luis Alfaro’s Mojada (Medea)Electricidad (Electra), and Oedipus El Rey. For the bodies of comedy, we’ll look at Spike Lee’s recasting of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in Chi Raq.  

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. 

Limited to 18 students. January term. Professor Griffiths.

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


Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Writing, 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