Most twenty-first century readers find tragic theater alien or stuffy, even while they eagerly consume tragic stuff through television and film. This course proposes to reinvigorate the reading of tragedy for readers who want to understand it and to feel its power, yet who often find the masterpieces of the genre too distant from their own language and world. The course will examine the theatrical and this historical conditions that defined tragedy in the past. We will review historical notions of the tragic hero, from Aristotle to the present, and how this hero has been understood to stand for his tribe, the common man, or the nation. We will examine the origins and evolution of the genre's formal qualities, suggesting that tragic form evokes conflict and tension. The class will also think about the role of plot in defining tragedy, and how a tragedy differs from a catastrophe or a merely unhappy ending. Finally, we will speculate on the future of tragedy as a genre. This course will not pretend to cover all the manifestations of tragic drama from the Greeks to the present: texts will include plays by Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Brecht, Ibsen, Beckett, and Miller and relevant criticism. Assignments will include a reading journal, two 5-7 pp. research-based papers, and a final in-class essay.