Tragedies are an inherent part of human culture and literature. They are centred around sadness and death – misfortune and the descent of heroic characters. Ultimately, tragedies were designed to be, and still are (over two and a half millennia after they were created) cathartic. Catharsis means “purification” in Greek, and it is precisely this which is at the centre of the tragic power contained in this genre of literature. Catharsis allows us to release emotions, not just in traditional ways but as a group audience. Tragedies, though they show purposefully depressing subject matter, bring us together – we identify with the main character because we have gone through the same things they are experiencing on stage. This is the great mirror which allows tragedy to resonate so deeply with us.

This unit looks to cover the key periods of tragedy. We begin with it its formation by the Greeks, before going on to look at how the conventions of Greek Tragedy were then adapted in the medieval period and later into the Renaissance era. We then finish by looking at modern tragedy and its development from the classical tragedy earlier in the unit.