Stapleford Granary

Course description

 In partnership with Literature Cambridge

Time: 10.30 – 17.00 | £90

This one-day symposium explores tragic drama, old and new. Taught by leading lecturers from the University of Cambridge English Tripos paper on Tragedy.

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, paintings have the capacity to be ‘tragic’? (We might think of Goya, Verdi, Dostoyevsky, Hardy, or Wilfred Owen.)

This fascinating study day introduces participants to Greek, Shakespearean, and modern tragedy, with lectures by leading Cambridge scholars. Each lecture is 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 the most out of the course if you read the works (or some of them) in advance. And do watch some as performances, live or on film, if you can.

Greek Tragedy

Sophocles, Antigone

Sophocles, Electra

Euripides, Bacchae

Note that Antigone is performed in Greek, 12-15 October 2016, at the Cambridge Arts Theatre


Julius Caesar

Antony and Cleopatra


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)

Artist/speaker: Jennifer Wallace, Adrian Poole, Alison Hennegan

Further info

About our Lecturers

Jennifer Wallace is 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.


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).


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. She has published on Wilde, Elizabeth von Arnim, First World War writings, Benjamin Britten and many other topics.


Literature Cambridge offers independent courses on the best of English literature. Taught by academics and open to all.