Teaching Students About the Literary Genre of Tragedy


The literary genre of tragedy has played a vital role in shaping human emotions, morals, and understanding of the world since ancient times. From Greek dramatists like Sophocles and Aeschylus to Shakespearean tragedies to modern works, tragedy has evolved, but its core elements have remained intact. Teaching students about the literary genre of tragedy not only enriches them with valuable knowledge but also nurtures empathy and deepens their emotional intelligence. Here is a guide for educators to teach tragedy effectively:

Start with the historical background

Begin by introducing students to the origins and history of tragedy. They must understand how Greek tragedies laid the foundation for this genre, followed by other crucial literary eras such as Renaissance England, and eventually into modern pieces. This historical context will give students insights into evolving societal values and perspectives on tragic themes.

Define key concepts and elements

Outline the essential features and concepts related to tragedy – Aristotle’s catharsis, peripeteia, anagnorisis, hamartia, hubris; character archetypes such as the tragic hero, antagonists, and chorus; plot structure; soliloquies; symbolism; dramatic irony, etc. By providing a comprehensive overview of these terms, students will have a solid foundation from which they can analyze works of tragedy.

Analyze exemplary works

Study seminal works that span various eras – such as Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and Death of a Salesman – to understand how these tragedies exhibit characteristic themes and techniques. Encourage critical thinking by inviting students to explore each work’s structure, characters’ motives, and decisions leading to tragic outcomes.

Foster empathy through discussion

Tragedy allows readers or audiences to experience intense emotions vicariously through its characters’ journeys. Invite students to think about how they relate to these characters and empathize with their plight. Discuss how the tragic hero’s flaws ultimately lead to their downfall and open up conversations about morality and personal responsibility.

Connect tragedy to contemporary issues

Analyze modern works of tragedy and encourage students to draw connections between classical themes and current issues. Discuss how elements of tragedy manifest in real-life events. This approach helps students recognize the timeless relevance of this genre and reflect on contemporary societal values.

Encourage creative writing

Ask students to create their original tragedies, borrowing concepts, and elements discussed earlier. This exercise allows them to apply their knowledge and understanding of tragedy creatively and provides them with an opportunity to explore their emotions in a safe environment.


Teaching the literary genre of tragedy is essential for students as it enables them to acknowledge human frailties, develop empathy, appreciate historical cultural contributions, and reflect on personal responsibility. By incorporating a wide range of activities that emphasize historical context, critical analysis, discussion, empathy-building, connection to current events, and creative writing, educators can significantly enrich the student learning experience and nurture well-rounded individuals deeply connected with the human condition.

Choose your Reaction!