Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Adrian Poole

Language: English

Pages: 160

ISBN: 0192802356

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


To your local anchorperson, the word "tragedy" brings to mind an accidental fire at a low-income apartment block, the horrors of a natural disaster, or atrocities occurring in distant lands. To a classicist however, the word brings to mind the masterpieces of Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Racine; beautiful dramas featuring romanticized torment. What has tragedy been made to mean by dramatists, storytellers, philosophers, politicians, and journalists over the last two and a half millennia? Why do we still read, re-write, and stage these old plays? This lively and engaging work presents an entirely unique approach which shows the relevance of tragedy to today's world, and extends beyond drama and literature into visual art and everyday experience. Addressing questions about belief, blame, mourning, revenge, pain, and irony, noted scholar Adrian Poole demonstrates the age-old significance of our attempts to make sense of terrible suffering.

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so many different kinds of scapegoat in tragedy, often more than one in the same play. Scapegoats are meant to solve problems of guilt and innocence, but in tragedy they raise questions about the process of judgement by which blame is affixed and punishment executed. What is the difference between a victim and a scapegoat? Are all victims in some sense scapegoats? Some scapegoats are certainly innocent victims, like the Iphigeneia who is sacrificed to the goddess Artemis so the Greek fleet can sail

Macduff’s turbulent passions. Nothing can harness the babel that streams out of Beckett’s ‘Mouth’ in his short play Not I (1973). This fractured, repetitive narrative is itself a kind of ‘messenger speech’, in the sense that the mad Ophelia’s snatches of speech and song are reports from the chaos of her inner world to a helpless group of bystanders, including her 86 brother Laertes. Beckett’s play has only one other figure in the shape of a silent ‘Auditor’. Indeed, ‘shape’ is just what he or

63–5) 104 This looks ahead to the hideous dreams endured by Hamlet as he waits for the right moment, whenever that would be, to fulfil the Ghost’s mission. Not when Claudius is at his prayers, evidently. (Euripides’ Orestes kills Aegisthus at just such a moment, in the middle of a sacrifice.) There is the interim before the acting of a dreadful thing, but there is also the interim after, as Oedipus and Macbeth discover, as does King Lear. Rites of passage It is not hard to see the classic

Footfalls 93 Not I 86–7 Play 80 Waiting for Godot 112 Beethoven, Ludwig van Fidelio 39 Benjamin, Walter 65 Berg, Alban Wozzeck 30 Bergman, Ingmar 106 Bergson, Henri Le Rire 70, 76, 78–9 blame 12, 44–55 Boethius 7–9 Bradley, A. C. 118, 120 Brecht, Bertolt 30, 31–2, 62 Life of Galileo, The 42 Mother Courage and her Children 83, 92–3, 95 Britten, Benjamin 25 Brooks, Mel 70 Brueghel, Pieter The Fall of Icarus 13 The Massacre of the Innocents 111 The Suicide of Saul 111 Büchner, Georg Danton’s Death

himself five years later. The historian Cassius Dio (c. ad 150–235) was writing from a safer distance when he described as a tragedy Nero’s murder of his unspeakable mother Agrippina in ad 59. This suggests the ease with which the term could be applied to a real event without elaborating it into artistic form, either in drama or narrative. Christian writers were ready to get in on this act. Both the martyrdom of St Romanus and the incarnation of Christ were called ‘great tragedies’. And we can find

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