What constitutes a tragedy? Both "tragedy" and "tragic" have acquired a life of their own in the public discourse. Recent articles in The New York Times have employed these terms to describe untimely deaths and grisly murders, plane accidents and devastation of terrorist attacks, drug overdoses and environmental disasters. Rather than rejecting the popular references to tragedy as inaccurate (although inaccurate they may be), this course explores whether we can find our way from the popular understanding of what constitutes a tragedy back to the actual literary practice of tragedy, and to the most important attempts to theorize it, from Plato and Aristotle to the present. Is a sense of loss and devastation enough to call something tragic? Does tragedy require a protagonist capable of ethical choice? Does it require an irresolvable clash of obligations? Readings/screenings to include Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, O'Neill, Anouilh, and films by Von Trier, Larry Clark, and Spike Lee, among others.