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Tragedy: A Complete History

18. Tragedy and Technology 4: Film

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In this module, we think about tragedy in the cinema and on television, focusing in particular on the proliferation on genres in film, its fascination with the female body, and the question of whether television ever provides moments of true tragedy? Films and television shows discussed include: The Godfather Part II (1974), Breaking Bad (2008-13), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Apocalypse Now (1979), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Blade Runner (1982) and many, many more.

Gangster films/TV shows:
White Heat (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1949)
Key Largo (dir. John Huston, 1948)
The Godfather Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007)
Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008-2013)

War films:
The Bridge on the River Kwai (dir. David Lean, 1957), cf. Ian Watt, ‘Bridge on the River Kwai as Myth’, collected in Essays on Conrad (2000)
The Deer Hunter (dir. Michael Cimino, 1978)
Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), cf. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899), the novella on which the film was (loosely) based.
Southern Comfort (dir. Walter Hill, 1981)
Platoon (dir. Oliver Stone, 1986)
First Blood (dir. Ted Kotcheff, 1982)

Cimarron (dir. Wesley Ruggles, 1931)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (dir. John Foreman, 1969)
Unforgiven (dir. Clint Eastwood, 1992)
The Searchers (dir. John Ford, 1956)
Dances with Wolves (dir. Kevin Costner, 1990)
Bad Day at Black Rock (dir. John Sturges, 1955)
Pale Rider (dir. Clint Eastwood, 1985)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (dir. Clint Eastwood, 1976)
Once Upon a Time in the West (dir. Sergio Leone) (1968)

Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982), cf. Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
12 Monkeys (dir. Terry Gilliam, 1995)
Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)
Aliens (dir. Ridley Scott, 1986)
Alien 3 (dir. David Fincher, 1992)
The Terminator (dir. James Cameron, 1984)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (dir. James Cameron, 1991)

The female form:
Peeping Tom (dir. Michael Powell, 1960)
Don't Look Now (dir. Nicholas Roeg, 1973)
Ai No Korīda ('In the Realm of the Senses') (dir. Nagisa Oshima, 1976)

Colonel Redl (dir. István Szabó, 1985)
Hanussen (dir. István Szabó, 1988)
Mephisto (dir. István Szabó, 1981)
The Jewel in the Crown (ITV, 1984)


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 - Tragedy and Technology 4: Film [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Lennard, J. "Tragedy: A Complete History – Tragedy and Technology 4: Film." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,