Humanities 301: Comedy and Tragedy in the Human Soul

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Humanities 301: Comedy and Tragedy in the Human Soul bridges the ancient and modern world by looking inward into the human soul and centering on a in-depth look at Shakespeare.


At the end of Plato’s Symposium, Socrates argues that the poet who writes tragedy ought to be able to write comedy as well, yet poets have rarely been able to succeed in both genres. Why is it that Shakespeare, almost alone among the world’s poets, had been able to occupy what the great critic Louise Cowan called the “terrains” of both comedy and tragedy? And why is it that the perspectives on reality offered by these two genres occur almost universally—especially in comedy—but occasionally reach a peak of achievement, as in ancient Athens of the fifth century B.C. or England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I? This course complements Humanities 101 and 102 by bridging the ancient and modern worlds, considering how the themes of tragedy and comedy broadly understood developed, with a special focus on Renaissance dramatic representation.

Works Used

  • Aristophanes, Frogs
  • Sophocles, Philoctetes
  • Plautus, Menaechmi,
  • Unknown, The Second Shepherd’s Play
  • Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet, Henry V, King Lear, The Tempest, Othello

Typically Taught By