Classical Studies
CLA 1-278-2012

Tragedy and Catharsis

Darker Face of the Earth
Augustus Newcastle is the newest slave on the LaFarge plantation and is working with the conspirators to sow discontent among the brethren and stir the fires of freedom. Oberlin College 1999 production of Rita Dove's Darker Face of the Earth

Instructors: Dr. John Gruber-Miller, College Hall 312, Ext. x4326; email:

Shawn Doyle, Writing Consultant, 124 Cole Library; phone: x4812; email:

Jennifer Rouse, Arts and Humanities Consulting Librarian, 307 Cole Library; phone: x4466; email:

Student Mentors: Alec Hynes, Student Mentor, phone: 816-914-5985, email:

Tessa Morgan, Student Mentor, phone: 507-458-2892; email:

Class Hours: M-F 9:00-11:15; 1:00-3:00

Office Hours: M W F 11:15 a.m.-12 noon, and by appointment

Required Texts:

  • Meineck, Peter, and Paul Woodruff, trans. Sophocles. Theban Plays. Hackett, 2003. 

  • Luschnig, Cecelia Eaton, and Paul Woodruff, trans. Euripides. Electra, Phoenician Women, Bacchae, Iphigenia at Aulis. Hackett, 2011.

  • Svarlien, Diane Arnson, trans. Euripides. Alcestis, Medea, Hippolytus. Hackett, 2007.

  • Dove, Rita. The Darker Face of the Earth. 2nd ed. Story Line Press, 1996.
    ISBN-10: 1885266197 OR 3rd ed. 2000.

  • Fugard, Athol. The Island. In Township Plays. Oxford UP, 1993.

  • Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Random House, 1987.

  • Soyinka, Wole. The Bacchae, A Communion Rite. 1st ed. W. W. Norton 1974. ISBN-10: 0393007898

Goals of the Course

  • to grapple with enduring questions about personal relationships, responses to the gods, intertwined political and social communities, and our treatment of Others
  • to explore one of the oldest genres of literature--tragedy--define it, and explore its continuing relevance today
  • to become more adept at reading various types of texts and interpreting them.
  • to experience tragedy through performance and see how practice might shape theoretical approaches to tragedy
  • to learn to find, use effectively, and evaluate information, both print and electronic resources
  • to understand academic honesty and how to evaluate and cite sources.
  • to use writing to learn, analyze, and synthesize new ideas and to reflect on personal responses to tragedy
  • to begin the process of becoming an effective and successful college student
  • learning outcomes for all First Year Seminars

Course Format

Discussion, in-class writing, small group collaboration, performance, workshop, conference. Throughout the course, you will learn to share and express ideas clearly and effectively, to collaborate, to critique others' ideas, and to give and receive criticism about one's own ideas and writing.

I hope to foster an atmosphere in which students are free to speak their minds. We all (myself included) bring different backgrounds, preparation, theoretical perspectives, and values to this course. We all will learn from many sources: our common readings, each other, our discussions, and our research. It is, therefore, crucial to the success of the course that everyone show respect and courtesy to everyone else in the class, and a willingness to help each other learn and approach this material from new perspectives.


Class preparation, participation, and attendance: For you to get the most out of the course, it is crucial that you come to every class session well prepared. Being well-prepared means not only having read the material, but also having spent time reflecting on it and re-reading portions of it. It also means being ready to participate in class discussion by asking questions, offering opinions, making observations, and trying out arguments. As you prepare for class, it is a good idea to write marginal notes in your text to remind you of memorable quotations, historical background, recurring themes, and questions you have about the text.

To assist you in preparing for class, you will journal frequently (seven entries, roughly two per week) to help you engage with the texts we are reading. In the journal, write out the thoughts (no more than one page, double-spaced) you have about the reading, making observations that you noted in the reading, explaining a pattern or theme you have noticed, or raising questions that emerge from the reading. At the end of each journal entry, you will pose one question that you would like the class to answer about the reading for the day. When raising a question or issue, be sure to present a context for each question (i.e., why you are asking the question or what in the reading prompted the question). If your question is chosen, you will receive bonus points on that journal entry. To understand how these journal entries will be assessed, read the grading rubric for the reading journal. You will submit four of these journals at the end of the block as part of your portfolio. The journal is due at the beginning of class period on the day they will be discussed.

Response Paper: In four of the five sections of the course, you will write a 2-3 page response to one of the works we have read or viewed. These papers are designed to help you develop a topic or question you have about the play or film and to explore how this idea affects your understanding of the dramatic text. You may write about a particular scene, character, theme, image. Or you may wish to compare it to a text we have read, or to your own personal life. You may answer one of the study questions or you may come up with your own idea. These response papers will help you prepare to write one of the essays on the midterm or final. They should focus on one topic, have a thesis and demonstrate that you have asked good questions about the readings and that you have supported your ideas from the text.

What They Are Not: What They Are:


Thoughtful and engaged with the text.

Rambling without a clear focus.

On one main topic.

1-2 pages of plot summary.

Only a paragraph.

2-3 full pages of writing, attempting to pose and answer a significant (but narrow) question, using evidence from the text or film, and pushing the ideas as far as you can.



They are due at the beginning of the class period before we discuss that text. To understand how the response papers will be assessed, read the grading rubric for play or film responses. You will submit three of these as part of your portfolio at the end of the course. As with journals, each student will receive one free day. In other words, you must submit a response paper for at least four out of the five sections of the course.

Performance of a scene/oral presentation: Once each week, you will collaborate to perform a scene (3-5 pages) from one of our texts. By looking closely at the scene to be performed and reading it carefully to determine what internal cues are available to determine pace, voicing, intonation, blocking, gesture, etc., you and your collaborators will discover how the scene should be performed. After the performance, each member of the group must be prepared to explain his/her decisions orally to the class. The performance will initiate a discussion of that scene led by all the members of the group. The group will want to begin its discussion by discussing the blocking of the scene, its structure, and its significance within the entire play, and then move on to discuss decisions about blocking, gesture, props, character development, analysis of themes or imagery, repetition or links with other scenes in the play. At the end of the term, the group should write up a 1-2 page summary of how it performed each scene and describe what effects it was trying to evoke in the audience and how the scene might have been improved.

Oral report: Once during the course, you and a partner will give an oral report providing important background material for understanding the tragedies we are reading. You should confer with both Jen Rouse and me before presenting so that we can help you with finding sources and clarifying the key points in the source material. All reports should be accompanied by a handout/visual aid to be given to the rest of the class, outlining the author's argument and presenting examples from the tragedies we have read or seen. It will help you to be more focused when you give your report, and it will provide an outline for others to take notes on as they listen.

Bibliography assignment: With the help of Jen Rouse and John Gruber-Miller, you will find 5-6 sources about one play/text from the course. After giving the complete bibliographic reference, you will also explain what category(ies) each article falls into and why it fits: primary, secondary, tertiary; popular, scholarly; review, performance, or literary. Ideally, there is an example of nearly every type among the 5-6 sources. Draft bibliography is due on the third Monday. Final version due on the third Wednesday.

Summary/Response to a scholarly article: In addition, everyone will read one scholarly article on one of the tragedies we are reading in the course and write a typed, 1-2 page summary and 1-2 page response to it. If you prefer, you may blend the summary and response into one coherent 3-4 page paper. The Summary/Reaction is due on the third Friday. Rubric for summary-response papers.

Midterm will include short identifications of terms and concepts with an example from one of our texts and essays. You will receive a study guide ahead of time.

Final Project: Create and Perform a Tragedy for our Time. In groups of four, you will write and present a play or scene from a play that follows the genre rules for Attic tragedy and that participates in a contemporary discourse. The assignment is designed to help you figure out how tragedies work through creativity and emulation, rather than through analysis and argument. Since most of our sources, and certainly all plays, were originally designed to be encountered in a spoken format, as well, the project provides an experience of performance on many levels. Finally, the best way to appreciate how flexible Greek myth can be is to craft a version of one yourself. Here are more details on the project.

Finally, you will prepare a portfolio along with a 1-2 page analysis of your progress as a student. In addition to the reflective essay, the portfolio should contain four journal entries, three response papers, summary and reflection on your three performances, and the midterm. Some questions to consider in the reflective essay: First, how have you improved as a student, managing your time, developing good study skills, preparing for class, taking tests. Second, how have you improved as a critical reader, writer, and thinker? What do you wish you could have done differently? What challenges did you meet in the course and how did you attempt to overcome them? What do you feel you still need to work on as a reader, writer, and thinker? Please include a hard copy of your papers with my comments. If you revised something, include both the first draft and revised version. Finally, please place the reflective essay first and then arrange the other items in your portfolio in reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent to oldest). The portfolio should include a hard copy of your writing with my written comments.


Three major components will determine your grade:

  • class attendance, active and sensitive participation in class discussion, daily journal, and bibliography assignment 20%
  • performance of various scenes and oral report 15%
  • response papers and summary/reaction 20%
  • midterm 20%
  • final exam 20%
  • Portfolio (4 journal entries, 3 response papers, handout/visual aid for oral report, midterm, and a self-reflective essay on your writing in the course) 5%


Attendance: Since our class format is based primarily on discussion and workshops, it is essential that you come to class every day, prepared and ready to participate actively. Any unexcused absence after one missed class period will harm your final grade. If you must miss class, please inform me ahead of time if at all possible. If you have a fever and other symptoms of the flu (seasonal and H1N1), please do not come to class until you have been fever-free for 24 hours.

Drafts of Papers: Learning how to revise papers is an important element of becoming a successful writer, and conferences are an important element in honing your writing skills. The failure to submit a full-length draft when due will automatically result in a grade of C or below for that particular paper.

Deadlines: no late work will be accepted. If an emergency or illness occurs, please let me know immediately so that other plans can be arranged.

Academic Integrity: According to the Cornell College Student Handbook, plagiarism is "is the act of taking the work of another and presenting it as one's own, without acknowledgement of the original source." In other words, using others' ideas, words, even sentence structure, without crediting them is a serious academic offense. Plagiarism also includes writing a paper for another person, borrowing or buying an essay and submitting it as your own, or paraphrasing an article but forgetting to document it. Click here for Cornell's policy on Academic Honesty.

Accomodations for different learning styles: Cornell College is committed to providing equal educational opportunities to all students.  If you have a documented learning disability and will need any accommodation in this course, you must request the accommodation(s) from me as early as possible and no later than the third day of the term. Additional information about the policies and procedures for accommodation of learning disabilities is available on the Cornell web site at


Maintained by: Last Update: April 29, 2013 5:32 pm

Professor John Gruber-Miller
CLA 9-111-2012
Masterpieces of Greek and Roman Theater

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