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Day 4: The 2018 TCNJ Summer Institute for English Language Arts Educators

The English Department at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is offering a summer institute for English language arts teachers on “Teaching Drama (without Fear).”  The four-day institute provides 20 hours of professional development, covers a wide range of topics, and is taught by TCNJ faculty.

Day 4: The Tragic Flaw of the Tragic Flaw/Writing an Agon

July 12, 2018

facilitated by Prof. Glenn Steinberg

Glenn 2 Oedipus_and_the_Sphinx Glenn 3

Many high school literature curricula include plays from ancient Greece – typically Oedipus the King or Antigone and occasionally Medea.  Traditional readings of these plays often stress the Aristotelian concept of hamartia (the tragic flaw) or view the plays as tragedies of fate (criticizing human hubris).  Such readings can, however, be reductive and misleading.  They focus on individual agency and values, making the plays about the individual’s thoughts and actions.  But Greek drama of fifth-century Athens was a religious and civic event, focused on bringing the men of Athens together each year to reflect on their city, its divine protectors (Athena and Dionysus), and the proper way to run the city’s affairs.  The plays were about encouraging civic bonding and considering competing political visions for the city.

Our morning workshop this day focuses on civic themes in plays such as Oedipus the King and Antigone.  Rather than focus on fate and hubris in Oedipus or on individual responsibility under a tyranny in Antigone, we examine the theme of leadership in Oedipus and the guiding principles of democracy in Antigone.  Looking at the plays in this way provides insight into ancient Greek social and political culture but also enables us to reflect on our own understanding and expectations with regard to leadership and democracy.

The principal goal of the morning workshop will be for participants to

  • develop a fresh approach to teaching ancient Greek drama, based on the civic context, purpose, and themes of the plays.

In the afternoon, we switch gears and focus on a common writing assignment in high school classrooms: the composition of a dramatic scene in imitation of a model text.  This kind of assignment, while creative and often enjoyable to students, usually yields very mixed results.  Using ancient Greek drama as our touchstone, we explore a way to make the assignment more effective.  Essentially, a student’s ability to compose an effective dramatic scene depends upon the student’s understanding of the purpose and conventions of different kinds of scenes.  In this respect, the ancient Greek agon, a back-and-forth dialogue that debates a particular question, provides a useful model for student writing.  As an example of how to use dramatic models in such writing assignments, we discuss together the dramatic context and conventions of the agon and each compose an agon of our own, choosing a question to debate and characters appropriate to the question before composing a brief dialogue.

The principal goal of the afternoon workshop will be for participants to

  • compose an agon that shows sensitivity to the purpose and conventions of such scenes in ancient Greek drama;
  • be able to assign imitations of dramatic models with greater effectiveness and better results.

Text: Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays, trans. Robert Fagles (Penguin, 2000), ISBN 978-0140444254, $15 (provided).

Glenn Steinberg (facilitator on Day 4)

GlennSteinberg 1

Glenn A. Steinberg holds a B.A. from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University Bloomington in English with a specialization in medieval studies. His research focuses on the reception of classical and medieval texts in England during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance with a particular emphasis on the evolving reputations of Virgil, Dante, and Chaucer from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. He has published essays in Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, The Chaucer Review, Chung Wai Literary Monthly, English Literary Renaissance, the Modern Language Association’s Approaches to Teaching Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the Shorter Poems, Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Modern Philology, and Forum Italicum. He taught at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, for four years before coming to The College of New Jersey in 1998. He coordinated the Classical Studies program at TCNJ for many years and regularly teaches courses in classical, medieval, and Renaissance literature.

Return to Institute information

Day 1: Drama: History, Genre, Performance Space facilitated by Prof. Diane Vanner Steinberg

Day 2: American One Acts/Theater as Public Ritual facilitated by Prof. Lincoln Konkle

Day 3: Shakespeare’s Language/Translating Shakespeare facilitated by Prof. Felicia Steele


Register here:

For more information about registration, contact George Hefelle (
For more information about the institute’s curriculum, contact Glenn Steinberg (