tragedy: past and present


This course is finished. You can read extracts from the lectures and find further reading on our Blog, here.

Saturday 18 March 2017
10.30 am to 5.00 pm
Price: £90.00 for the full day. Lunch included.
Student standby tickets (£75.00) available. Email us at for information.
All other bookings here.

With lectures by leading Cambridge academics Adrian Poole, Jennifer Wallace and Alison Hennegan. 

What is tragedy; how have its literary and theatrical traditions changed (or not) over the centuries? What can we learn from it now? Where does tragedy go, once the word ceases to be defined as a type of drama? Do novels, operas, lyric poetry, or paintings have the capacity to be tragic? We might think of Goya, Verdi, Dosoyevsky, Hardy, or Wilfred Owen.

The study day introduces participants to Greek, Shakespearean, and modern tragedy, with each lecture followed by questions and discussion. A unique opportunity to learn something of the history and power of tragedy, as it is taught to Cambridge undergraduates, and to think about how tragedy speaks to us today.


Jennifer Wallace, Greek Tragic Performance
Adrian Poole, Shakespeare, Tragedy and Rome
Alison Hennegan, Modern Tragedy: A Contradiction in Terms?

Suggested reading

You will get most out of the course if you read the works in advance (or at least some of them). But it is fine if you prefer just to listen and learn, and do the reading afterwards.

Greek Tragedy:  Sophocles, Antigone; Sophocles, Electra; Euripides, Bacchae
Shakespeare:  Julius CaesarAntony and CleopatraCoriolanus
Modern Tragedy: O'Neill, Mourning Becomes Electra (1931); Orton, What the Butler Saw (first performed posthumously 1969); Kane, Phaedra's Love (1996)

Secondary reading

Edith Hall, Greek Tragedy: Suffering Under the Sun (2010)
Colin Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (2013)
Adrian Poole, Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction (2005)
Jennifer Wallace, The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy (2007)


Jennifer Wallace jpg.jpg

Jennifer Wallace

Jennifer Wallace is Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, where she teaches English literature 1700-1900 and Tragedy, both ancient and modern. Her books include Shelley and Greece (1997), Digging the Dirt: The Archeological Imagination (2004), The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy (2007), and The Oxford History of the Classical Reception in English Literature, 1790–1880 (2015) and her first work of fiction, Digging Up Milton (2015). She is currently editing A Cultural History of Tragedy in the Modern Age for Bloomsbury and writing a book on Tragedy since 9/11.

Website: here.

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Adrian Poole

Adrian Poole is Emeritus Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has written and lectured extensively on Shakespeare, especially the tragedies, and on the afterlives of Shakespeare in the work of later artists, writers and readers. His books include Tragedy: Shakespeare and the Greek Example (1987), Shakespeare and the Victorians(2003) and Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction (2005).

Website: here.

Profile of Adrian Poole in the English Faculty Alumni newsletter, 9 West Road (2015), p. 16: here.

Alison Hennegan. Photo by Kiloran Howard

Alison Hennegan. Photo by Kiloran Howard

Alison Hennegan

Alison Hennegan sat the Tragedy Paper in 1970, and, after an interruption of some years in gay activism, literary journalism, publishing and broadcasting, returned to teach the paper for numerous Cambridge colleges, including Trinity Hall where she is a Fellow and Director of Studies in English.

Alison's interests include British writing of the First World War, juvenile fiction, decadence, Wilde, Mansfield, Woolf, Forster, twentieth-century writers, women writers, gay writers. She has published on Wilde, Elizabeth von Arnim, First World War writings, Benjamin Britten and many other topics.

Website: here.