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Tragedy: A Complete History

17. Modernist Tragedy 2: Lorca and Beckett

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About this Lecture


In this module, we return to the intersection of tragedy and Modernism by looking at two very different playwrights: Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) and Samuel Beckett (1906-89). In the case of Lorca, we think about Lorca's engagement with Brecht, his exploration of womanhood, and the idea of national tragedy – could Lorca's tragedies have been set anywhere other than Spain? With Beckett, we think about the use of technology – electric spotlights, microphones, tape recorders, etc. – and the fusion of tragedy and comedy that we last saw with Shakespeare's King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra.
Reading list:
– Federico García Lorca, Blood Wedding (1922)
– Federico García Lorca, Mariana Pineda (1927)
– Federico García Lorca, Yerma (1934)
– Federico García Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba (1936)
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1953)
– Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable (1954)
– Samuel Beckett, Endgame (1957)
– Samuel Beckett, Krapp's Last Tape (1958)
– Samuel Beckett, Play (1962)
– Samuel Beckett, Breath (1969)
– Samuel Beckett, Not I (1972)
– Samuel Beckett, Catastrophe (1982)
– Samuel Beckett, Worstwood Ho (1983)
– Albert Bermel, Comic Agony: Mixed Impressions in the Modern Theatre (1996)


In this course, Professor John Lennard explores the history of tragedy from its origins in ancient Athens to the present day. In the first three modules, we think about the tragedy of Classical Athens, looking in particular at the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, before turning in the fourth module to Roman tragedy and Seneca the Younger. In the fifth module, we think about how the arrival of Christianity of Europe may have impacted people's views of tragedy in the Middle Ages, before turning in the sixth, seventh and eighth modules to the tragedy of the Renaissance period – including Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, Marston, Webster. After that, in the ninth module, we think the Restoration Tragedy of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, before moving on in the tenth module to consider the intersection between tragedy and Romanticism – looking especially at works of Lessing, Schiller, Goethe and Kleist. In the eleventh and twelfth modules, we think about the impact on tragedy of first a new medium – the novel – and then a new technology – the camera. In the thirteenth module, we think about tragedy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, looking especially at the work of Henrik Ibsen, before moving on in the fourteenth module to think about the relationship between tragedy and war – especially the First World War (1914-18). In the fifteenth module, we think about the tragedy and Modernism, looking in particular at the plays of Bertolt Brecht and novels of William Faulkner, before turning in the sixteenth module to think about how tragedy has represented the Sho'ah, i.e. the Holocaust. In the seventeenth module, we return to Modernism by thinking about the works of Lorca and Beckett, before moving on in the eighteenth module to look at tragedy in film and television. In the nineteenth module, we think about tragedy written by non-Western writers and in non-Western contexts, looking in particular at Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan (1956) and the works of the Yoruban writer, Wole Soyinka, before turning in the twentieth and final module to tragedy today and in the future.


Born in Bristol, and educated at Oxford and St Louis, Dr John Lennard has taught English, American, and Commonwealth Literature in Cambridge, London, and Jamaica over more than twenty years. He has written two widely used textbooks (on poetry and drama) and monographs on Shakespeare, Paul Scott, Nabokov, and Faulkner, as well as two collections of essays on contemporary genre writers in crime, science fiction and fantasy, and romance. Enthusiastic, discursive, widely knowledgeable, and a demon for punctuation (on which he has also published extensively), he has been a popular Summer School Course Leader and lecturer for the Institute of Continuing Education since 1992.

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APA style

Lennard, J. (2018, August 15). Tragedy: A Complete History - Modernist Tragedy 2: Lorca and Beckett [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Lennard, J. "Tragedy: A Complete History – Modernist Tragedy 2: Lorca and Beckett." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,