Friday Night Lecture: The Curse and the Gift of Tragedy

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Dr. Bainard Cowan, professor of literature and Cowan Chair in Humanities at the University of Dallas, presented this academic year’s inaugural Friday Night Lecture, “The Curse and the Gift of Tragedy,” on Friday, September 13.

In his presentation, Dr. Cowan discussed the core elements of tragedy, drawing on Aristotle’s discussion in The Poetics, and then considered several examples, in particular Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He showed how tragedy has a negative element, the curse, but also how it serves as a source of purification for the tragic hero and his city, the gift. Following the presentation, Dr. Cowan took questions from students and faculty.

Magdalen students enjoyed the lecture, especially since it referenced books that they read in the Humanities sequence. They also enjoyed his insights on writing tragedy in the modern world. “I enjoyed Dr. Cowan’s talk very much. It taught me a lot about how tragedy is created, and why we have almost no true tragedies now, despite having plenty of tragic material with which to work,” said Paul Milliken ‘22.

“The Curse and the Gift of Tragedy” is part of Magdalen College’s Friday Night Lecture Series, a program in which the college hosts distinguished guest speakers on a wide variety of academic topics. The lectures also feature an opportunity for questions and answers and to meet the guest speaker. They are free and open to the public.

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