CLA2006 - Greek and Roman Drama

2011/2 Module description

Lecturer(s)Professor Richard Seaford, Professor John Wilkins
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
Duration of ModuleTerms 1 and 2
Total Student Study Time12 hours per week, including a one-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar or study group each week.

Module aims

On the basis of a selection of texts in English translationâ??Greek and Roman tragedies and comedies from Aeschylus to Senecaâ??we attempt to come to a general understanding of the origin and development of ancient drama, the importance of types of plot and character, the relationship of drama with society and the emotional effect of tragedy.
We study Athenian tragedy of the fifth century BC over a period of some sixty years, paying attention both to the texts of the plays and the way they develop with time and in line with changes in the city. Complementary study of the very different tragedy of Seneca (first century AD) raises issues of text, performance and the cultural setting of drama.
We study comedy, considering the place of Greek Old Comedy (for example Aristophanes) in the Athenian democratic city, and ways in which it differed from the New Comedy of the late fourth century (for example Menander). Roman approaches to comedy (plays by Plautus and Terence) are investigated.
The module builds on the Greek and Roman Narrative module, CLA1005.

Intended learning outcomes

Module-specific skills

On the completion of this module, students should be able to describe and analyse (a) the development of Greek tragedy and comedy in the fifth and fourth centuries BC and (b) Roman comedy and Senecan tragedy. They should also be able to read critically individual works within a specific genre.

Discipline-specific skills

Students should demonstrate an ability to distinguish and assess critically literature in a foreign culture and to place that literature in its cultural context, an ability to place drama in the context of the theatre, and to be able to comment on aspects of its theatricality.

Personal and key skills

Students should demonstrate a capacity for independent judgement, an ability to work in a seminar team, and an ability to present work in written form with a strong and coherent argument.

Learning and teaching methods

Weekly lectures; seminar groups/study groups weekly; reading, private study, and discussion.


Two oral presentations of about 10 minutes duration; two essays of 2,000 words each.


(1) The oral presentations (10% of whole module mark); two assessed module-work essays (40%); one three-hour exam paper consisting of a mixture of essays and passages from the set texts for comment (50%).

Syllabus plan

First Term:
1. Introduction and orientation;
2. The origin of tragedy and Euripides' Bacchae
3. Festival and theatre
4. Tragedy and ritual
5. Tragedy and politics
6. Tragedy and gender
7. Aeschlylus' Persians and the anonymous Prometheus Bound
8. Sophocles' Antigone
9. Sophocles Electra and Euripides Electra
10. Euripides Hippolytus
11. Seneca's Phaedra

Second term:
1. Comic authors, plots and themes;
2. Genre II: what is comedy?;
3. The ancient sense(s) of humour;
4. Sex and obscenity;
5. The politics of comedy;
6. Comedies of ideas: Clouds and Frogs;
7. Metatheatre and gender: The Poet and the Women;
8. The sociology of comedy;
9. New Comedy: ancient (and modern) soap opera;
10. New Comedy: character, ethics and human relationships;
11. Comic myth: Amphitryo;
12. Revision.

Indicative basic reading list

1. Prescribed texts:
Aeschylus, Persians and Prometheus Bound;
Sophocles, Antigone and Electra;
Euripides, Hippolytus, Electra,and Bacchae;
Seneca, Phaedra;
Aristophanes, Lysistrata, Acharnians, Clouds, The Poet and the Women and Frogs;
Menander, The Bad-Tempered Man and The Girl from Samos;
Terence, The Brothers;
Plautus, The Rope and Amphitryo;
N.B. Teaching, seminars and examinations will be based on the following prescribed translations:
Aeschylus: (Collard Oxford World's Classics);
Sophocles: (Kitto, Oxford World's Classics);
Euripides: (Morwood, Oxford World's Classics);
Seneca: Four Tragedies and Octavia (Watling, Penguin Classics); Aristophanes: Lysistrata and Other Plays (Sommerstein, Penguin), The Wasps and Other Plays (Barrett, Penguin);
Menander: The Plays and Fragments (Balme, Oxford World's Classics); Terence: The Comedies (Radice, Penguin);
Plautus: The Rope and Other Plays (Watling, Penguin).
2. Selected introductory reading:
P.E.Easterling (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy (Cambridge 1997)
M. Wright, Euripides' Escape Tragedies (Oxford, 2005)
O. Taplin, Greek Tragedy in Action (London, 1978)
R. Rehm, The Greek Tragic Theatre (London, 1992)
A. Pickard-Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athens (ed. 2, Oxford 1968)
Aristotle, Poetics, translated by Malcolm Heath (Penguin Classics: Harmondsworth,1996)
K. Dover, Aristophanic Comedy (Berkeley 1974)
M. Silk, Aristophanes and the Invention of Comedy (Oxford 2000)
W.G. Arnott, Menander, Plautus, Terence (Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics no 9)
N. Zagagi, The Comedy of Menander (London 1994)

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