GRC40160 Greek Tragedy in Ireland

Academic Year 2021/2022

Greek tragedy has had particular importance for Irish dramatists, and an understanding of the Classical background is essential for a full appreciation of their work. This module will examine both the use made of Greek tragedy by Irish dramatists and the light which these modern versions cast on the Greek plays themselves. The plays to be studied in detail will depend on student choice, but may include the following: J.M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World (1907); W.B. Yeats, King Oedipus (1926), Oedipus at Colonus (1927); Tom Paulin, The Riot Act (1985); Brendan Kennelly, Antigone (1986), Medea (1988), The Trojan Women (1993); Seamus Heaney, The Cure at Troy (1990), The Burial at Thebes (2004); Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats (1998); Brian Friel, Living Quarters (1978); Frank McGuinness, Electra (1997), Hecuba (2004), Oedipus (2008).

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:

• demonstrate detailed critical knowledge of a range of ancient and modern plays, and of the relationship between them;
• examine and evaluate modern criticism on the subject;
• critically discuss the theoretical aspects of reception studies;
• give an oral presentation about an aspect of the subject;
• contribute constructively to discussion of oral presentations on the subject;
• construct analytical and appropriately presented papers showing a capacity for independent thought about the subject.

Indicative Module Content:

Indicative seminar list


1. Introduction
2. Reception theory
3. Commentaries: Heaney, The Burial at Thebes
4. Commentaries: Heaney, The Burial at Thebes
5. Commentaries: McGuinness, Oedipus
6. Commentaries: McGuinness, Oedipus
7. Seminar papers
8. Seminar papers
9. Seminar papers
10. Seminar papers

The commentary should examine in detail a short passage from Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes or Frank McGuinness’ Oedipus. For The Burial at Thebes, students may choose one of the following passages: the opening scene (Antigone 1–99), Creon’s speeches (Antigone 162–210, 473–96), Antigone’s farewell (Antigone 806–928), the Creon and Tiresias scene (988–1090). For Oedipus, students may choose one of the following passages: Oedipus’ speech (OT 216–75), the Tiresias scene (OT 300–462), the final scene (OT 1223–1530). The commentary should pay particular attention to style, including comparison with a range of other translations, but wider issues may also be discussed.

The seminar paper should discuss one modern Irish play, or a number of plays (no more than three) based on a single Greek original. It should not be exclusively on Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes or McGuinness’ Oedipus, although it could include either of these plays in a wider discussion.

Indicative secondary reading

Arkins, B., Hellenising Ireland: Greek and Roman Themes in Modern Irish Literature (Newbridge, 2005)
Dillon, J. & Wilmer, S.E., Rebel Women: Staging Ancient Greek Drama Today (London, 2005)
Lloyd, M., ‘Brian Friel’s Greek tragedy: narrative, drama, and fate in Living Quarters’, Irish University Review 30/2 (2000), 244–53
McDonald, M. & Walton, J.M., Amid Our Troubles: Irish Versions of Greek Tragedy (London, 2002)
Macintosh, F., Dying Acts: Death in Ancient Greek and Modern Irish Tragic Drama (Cork, 1994)
Murray, C., ‘Three Irish Antigones’, in J. Genet & R.A. Cave (eds.), Perspectives of Irish Drama and Theatre (Irish Literary Studies, 33; Gerrard’s Cross, 1991), 115–29
Roche, A.V., ‘Ireland’s Antigones: tragedy North and South’, in M. Kenneally (ed.), Cultural Contexts and Literary Idioms in Contemporary Irish Literature (Gerrard’s Cross, 1988), 221–50

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module is taught through weekly 2-hour seminars. Students will give oral presentations and engage in group discussions. The module depends on contribution from the students, and it is essential that they prepare thoroughly for each seminar. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Recommendations:

Students should have some experience of studying drama at 3rd level, preferably Greek tragedy and/or Irish drama.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Assignment: 2,000-word commentary Week 7 n/a Graded No


Essay: 5,000-word seminar paper Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Seminar participation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Summer No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Students will receive detailed individual formative and summative feedback on their written work.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 Thurs 14:00 - 15:50