Fall 2022

The Bodies of Tragedy

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

Moodle site: Course


Frederick T. Griffiths (Section 01)


(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 start with the formation of Hellenic identity and notions of heroism in Homer's Iliad and then 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. Three class hours per week.

Limited to 30 students. Fall Semester. Professor Griffiths.

How to handle overenrollment: Preference to first- and second-year students.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on reading, writing and speaking. The requirements are regular attendance and participation, brief before-class responses, and four essays.


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