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Unit information: Transforming the Tragic Hero(ine): 1770-1840 in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

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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 Not open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Dr Richard McClelland.

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. Synthesise and apply theoretical, historical and literary knowledge to their own research.
  5. Conduct independent and collaborative research and present this orally and in writing appropriate to Level I.
  6. Confidently interpret literary texts in a nuanced and academic manner, as appropriate to Level I.

Teaching details

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

Assessment Details

1. An assessed presentation (40% of total unit mark; testing ILOs 2, 4 and 5) consisting of four components:

a) 5%: Portfolio of materials used in presentation (e.g. PPT file and/or Handout)

b) 5%: 200 word abstract of the presentation to be submitted to the tutor 1 week prior to the presentation.

c) 20%: Presentation (delivery, detail, clarity, etc. as outlined in SML’s criteria for marking presentations)

d) 10%: Reflective re-assessment of presentation, 500 words to be submitted on BB within 1 week of the date of the presentation.

Topics/texts will be determined by the student in tandem with the seminar tutor but must not cover one of the four texts studied in the course of the unit. Appropriate guidance and support will be provided for all students.

It is envisaged that the presentation is joint with other students. Marks for 1(c) and 1(d) are individual; the mark for 1(a) and 1(b) are for all members of the group.

2. An essay of 2000 words (60% of total unit mark; testing ILOs 1, 2, 3, 6) in response to a list of topics provided by the tutor or determined by the student in tandem with the tutor. These essays will respond to the four texts studied in the course of the unit.

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)