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Level 5

5AACTL03 Greek Drama

Credit value: 30
Module convenor/tutor:
 Dr Ismene Lada-Richards
Teaching pattern: 20 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 3-hour examination (100%)

Assessment for Graduate Diploma students only 

Assessment: 2 x 4,000-word essays (100%, essays worth 50% each)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

Among the most enduring, haunting products of the Greek classical imagination are the tragedies and comedies performed in the theatre of Dionysus, in the midst of the intellectual ferments of the fifth-century Athenian democratic polis. This module will give you a chance to read a selection of the masterpieces of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides as well as Aristophanes and the fouth-century star of the so-called “new” comedy, Menander. Aeschylean grandeur, Sophoclean “heroism” and Euripidean transgressions of gender and genre will be the stuff of our discussions and, insofar as time allows, we may also take into account aspects of Greek drama's rich and variegated reception strands from later antiquity to the modern day.

The course usually starts by placing this world- famous literature into its ritual and performative context by trying to understand both its complex Dionysiac affiliations as well as the key players of the burgeoning dramatic industry in Athens: poets, actors, musicians, dancers. As far as the plays themselves are concerned, we will look (from about Week 3 onwards) at the evolution of the tragic and the comic genre as well as the fascinating areas of their interbreeding and interpenetration, culminating in magnificent late fifth-century specimens of generic dialogue, such as Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae and/or Frogs. In the case of Tragedy we will pay particular attention to the way it related to literary and cultural traditions, especially its ways of “re-writing” Homer for the benefit of the contemporary Athenian polis; in the case of Comedy we will look at some of the ways it interacted with the political and intellectual climate of fifth-century Athens as well as with its generic sibling, tragedy. Very broadly speaking, the first term is usually devoted to Aeschylus and Sophocles, the second to Euripides and Comedy, but this may need to vary to take account of other factors, such as the group's overall interests.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

As many as possible of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes and Menander.

If you have time over the summer, try to have a look at one or two of the following: 

P. Easterling (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy (Cambridge 1997)

M.McDonald and J. M. Walton (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre (Cambridge 2007)

E. Hall, Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun (Oxford 2010)

E. Hall, The Theatrical Cast of Athens: Interactions between Ancient Greek Drama and Society (Oxford 2006)

R. Scodel, An Introduction to Greek Tragedy (Cambridge 2010)

N. Sorkin Rabinowitz, Greek Tragedy (Blackwell 2008)

D. J. Mastronarde, The Art of Euripides: Dramatic Technique and Social Context (Cambridge 2010)

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