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Unit information: Transforming the Tragic Hero(ine): 1770-1840 in 2018/19

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Unit name Transforming the Tragic Hero(ine): 1770-1840
Unit code GERM20044
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Debbie Pinfold
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Historically, only the great and the good could function as the protagonist of tragic theatre: gods and kings could experience the darkest aspects of human experience, but those lower down the social scale were not afforded such representation. In this unit, students will explore a series of German tragedies from a period in which the middle classes were increasingly asserting their voice and employing the tragic form to represent their experiences: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Emilia Galotti (1772); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I (1808); Heinrich von Kleist, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (1809). A fourth tragedy pushes things even further with its presentation of a working-class tragic hero: Georg Büchner, Woyzeck (c. 1836). These will be studied alongside short texts exploring tragedy as well as contemporary texts on theatre as an art form to cement these plays in their socio-historical context.

In addition to gaining a solid understanding of tragedy as a genre and its manifestation on the German stage, students will explore topics including: the role of the tragic hero; the relationship between the turbulent history of the period and its representation on the stage; how the theatre was used as a political and moral forum; and, the gender dynamics of these plays and the extent to which the female protagonists may be considered as tragic heroines in their own right.

The Unit Aims:

- To give students a solid grounding in German tragic theatre from the period 1770-1840 through the study of key texts from the era. - To ask how playwrights and their works respond to the world around them. - To explore the multiple ways in which literature can be interpreted. - To develop German language skills through the close reading of set texts. - To develop students’ engagement with primary and secondary literature. - To give students a solid foundation for future work in German Studies and related disciplines.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, successful students will be able to:

  1. Analyse tragedy as a dramatic genre and how this has been interpreted in Germany.
  2. Evaluate the contents and context of key German tragic texts, read in the original.
  3. Use secondary literature to support their own interpretations of the set texts.
  4. Confidently interpret literary texts in a nuanced and academic manner, as appropriate to Level I.
  5. Develop an independent evaluation of literary work, orally and in writing, to a standard appropriate to Level I.

Teaching details

2 Weekly seminars, to consist of informal lectures, seminar presentations and discussions.

Assessment Details

- In-class group presentation (25%), testing ILOs 1-5 - 1,000-word commentary on an extract from one of the texts (to be provided) (25%), testing ILOs 1-5 - 2,000-word essay (50%), testing ILOs 1-5

Reading and References

Barbara Fisher (ed), A Companion to the works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, (Rochester, NY, 2005)

Adrian Poole, Tragedy. A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford, 2005)

Lesley Sharpe (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Goethe (Cambridge, 2006)

Jennifer Wallace, The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy (Cambridge, 2007)

Simon Williams and Michael Hamburger (eds), A History of German Theatre (Cambridge, 2008)