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Unit information: Transforming the Tragic Hero(ine): 1770-1840 in 2021/22

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. McClelland
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

A group presentation (30% of the unit mark), testing ILOs 2, 4, and 5

An individual 2000-word essay in response to a list of topics provided by the tutor or determined by the student (70% of the unit mark), testing ILOs 1, 2, 3, and 6


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. GERM20044).