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Tragedy: A Complete History

10. Romanticism and Tragedy

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In this module, we explore the meeting between tragedy and the artistic and cultural movement of Romanticism that dominated Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the first half of the course, we consider the extent to which the English Romantic novelists or poets wrote what could be described as tragedy. After that, we look at the great flourishing of Romantic literature in 19th-century Germany, focusing in particular on the achievements of Lessing, Schiller, Goethe and Kleist.

Reading list:

English Romanticism:
– Matthew Lewis, The Monk (1796)
– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798)
– Lord Byron, 'The Giaour' (1813)
– Lord Byron, 'The Bride of Abydos' (1813)
– Lord Byron, 'The Siege of Corinth' (1816)
– Percy Pysshe Shelley, The Cenci (1819)

German Romanticism:
– Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Miss Sara Sampson (1755)
– Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Emilia Galotti (1772)
– Friedrich Schiller, The Robbers (1782)
– Friedrich Schiller, Intrigue and Love (1784)
– Friedrich Schiller, Don Carlos (1787)
– Friedrich Schiller, Wallenstein (1799)
– Friedrich Schiller, Mary Stuart (1800)
– Friedrich Schiller, The Maid of Orleans (1801)
– Friedrich Schiller, The Bride of Messina (1803)
– Friedrich Schiller, William Tell (1804)
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Erlking (1782),
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part One (first published 1808, but revised by Goethe in 1828-29) and Faust, Part Two (1831)
– Heinrich von Kleist, Penthesilea (1808)


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.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

Lennard, J. "Tragedy: A Complete History – Romanticism and Tragedy." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,