Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex is certainly one of the greatest tragedies ever written. It’s a murder mystery whose solution turns into a search for the identity of the searcher himself. His pride of reason solves every riddle, but cannot save him from the blinding terror of knowing who he is and what he has done along the way (murder and incest) to become a knower and ruler. King Lear is Shakespeare’s top of the mountain experience of tragedy. An old king and father administers a “love test” to his three daughters, to determine who loves him most, and to divide up the kingdom on that basis. He is not able to hear truth and love in the same words — why is that so hard? — and he makes a terrible mistake. To see the truth of the heart and to abide by the promptings of nature require, in this play, more blinding of eyes and suffering beyond human endurance. Both Sophocles and Shakespeare put in question the cost of knowing the truth about the things that matter most: love, family, wisdom, and rule. Therefore, they also must put in question the causes of things: freedom, fate, chance, and the gods.
Listen to Louis Petrich's podcast episode on this course
Terror and Truth in Literature - Louis Petrich
Meet the Instructor
Seminars are taught by Tikvah faculty and experts in the subject matter. Please note that course faculty are subject to change depending on availability.
St. John's College
Louis Petrich received his master’s degree in Social Thought from the University of Chicago in 1986. He worked as a dramaturg, assistant director, and actor at the Court Theater in Chicago in the late 1980s, and at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s. In 1990, he received his first Fulbright Scholar Award to teach American literature at the Alexandru I. Cuza University in Iasi, Romania. This was followed by service in the United States Peace Corps as a teacher of English teachers at Masaryk University in Brno, Czechoslovakia (where he met his wife). Afterwards, he taught American studies through the Civic Education Project to university students in Presov, Slovakia; Iasi, Romania; and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
He received a second Fulbright Scholar Award to teach American studies at Kyrgyz State National University, also in Bishkek, where he founded the American Studies Resources and Training Center. He returned to the United States in 2002 to begin a very different academic career as a Tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis. He remains there to this day, teaching the great books across the liberal arts curriculum. He has published articles on Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tocqueville, and liberal education. He also publishes poetry. He took a year’s leave of absence from St. John’s in 2010 to teach mathematics and biology to Arab and Kurdish students at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. He has two children, ages 22 and 15, and in his spare time he photographs marine life on the oceanic reefs of the world. He is honored to return to the Tikvah Institute in 2020, for his third consecutive summer on this distinguished faculty.