Lecture Three: Tragedy
Recapitulation of the theme of these lectures: Tragedy as a form of Sympathy
Aristotle on Tragedy, and Oedipus Rex
Imitation - mimesis
catastrophe (change of fortune)
Character: hamartia (error); hubris (pride arising from humiliating others)Tragic emotions (pity and fear), catharsis (purgation)
The Problem of Pleasure: Aristotle, Schiller
The Problem of Shakespeare: Choice and free will, Moral order
The Problem of the Modern, or Can Tragedy be Modern?
Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Flannery O’Connor, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’
George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy (London: Faber and Faber, 1963)
----- ‘Tragedy Reconsidered’, New Literary History 35.1 (2004) 1-15.
1. Oedipus Rex, trans. F. StorrOEDIPUS What's done was well done. Thou canst never shake My firm belief. A truce to argument. For, had I sight, I know not with what eyes I could have met my father in the shades, Or my poor mother, since against the twain I sinned, a sin no gallows could atone. Aye, but, ye say, the sight of children joys A parent's eyes. What, born as mine were born? No, such a sight could never bring me joy; Nor this fair city with its battlements, Its temples and the statues of its gods, Sights from which I, now wretchedst of all, Once ranked the foremost Theban in all Thebes, By my own sentence am cut off, condemned By my own proclamation 'gainst the wretch, The miscreant by heaven itself declared Unclean?and of the race of Laius. Thus branded as a felon by myself, How had I dared to look you in the face? Nay, had I known a way to choke the springs Of hearing, I had never shrunk to make A dungeon of this miserable frame, Cut off from sight and hearing; for 'tis bliss to bide in regions sorrow cannot reach. Why didst thou harbor me, Cithaeron, why Didst thou not take and slay me? Then I never Had shown to men the secret of my birth. O Polybus, O Corinth, O my home, Home of my ancestors (so wast thou called) How fair a nursling then I seemed, how foul The canker that lay festering in the bud! Now is the blight revealed of root and fruit. Ye triple high-roads, and thou hidden glen, Coppice, and pass where meet the three-branched ways, Ye drank my blood, the life-blood these hands spilt, My father's; do ye call to mind perchance Those deeds of mine ye witnessed and the work I wrought thereafter when I came to Thebes? O fatal wedlock, thou didst give me birth, And, having borne me, sowed again my seed, Mingling the blood of fathers, brothers, children, Brides, wives and mothers, an incestuous brood, All horrors that are wrought beneath the sun, Horrors so foul to name them were unmeet. O, I adjure you, hide me anywhere Far from this land, or slay me straight, or cast me Down to the depths of ocean out of sight. Come hither, deign to touch an abject wretch; Draw near and fear not; I myself must bear The load of guilt that none but I can share.
2. Oedipus Rex, trans. F. StorrOEDIPUS Methought I heard thee say that Laius Was murdered at the meeting of three roads. JOCASTA So ran the story that is current still. OEDIPUS Where did this happen? Dost thou know the place? JOCASTA Phocis the land is called; the spot is where Branch roads from Delphi and from Daulis meet. OEDIPUS And how long is it since these things befell? JOCASTA 'Twas but a brief while were thou wast proclaimed Our country's ruler that the news was brought. OEDIPUS O Zeus, what hast thou willed to do with me! JOCASTA What is it, Oedipus, that moves thee so? OEDIPUS Ask me not yet; tell me the build and height Of Laius? Was he still in manhood's prime? JOCASTA Tall was he, and his hair was lightly strewn With silver; and not unlike thee in form. OEDIPUS O woe is me! Mehtinks unwittingly I laid but now a dread curse on myself. JOCASTA What say'st thou? When I look upon thee, my king, I tremble. OEDIPUS 'Tis a dread presentiment That in the end the seer will prove not blind. One further question to resolve my doubt. JOCASTA I quail; but ask, and I will answer all. OEDIPUS Had he but few attendants or a train Of armed retainers with him, like a prince? JOCASTA They were but five in all, and one of them A herald; Laius in a mule-car rode. OEDIPUS Alas! 'tis clear as noonday now. But say, Lady, who carried this report to Thebes? JOCASTA A serf, the sole survivor who returned. OEDIPUS Haply he is at hand or in the house? JOCASTA No, for as soon as he returned and found Thee reigning in the stead of Laius slain, He clasped my hand and supplicated me To send him to the alps and pastures, where He might be farthest from the sight of Thebes. And so I sent him. 'Twas an honest slave And well deserved some better recompense.
3. Aristotle’s definition of hubris
to cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification. Hubris is not the requital of past injuries; this is revenge. As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.4. Shakespeare, Hamlet Ham. To be, or not to be,--that is the question:-- Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?--To die,--to sleep,-- No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to,--'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die,--to sleep;-- To sleep! perchance to dream:--ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death,-- The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn No traveller returns,--puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought; And enterprises of great pith and moment, With this regard, their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.--Soft you now! The fair Ophelia!--Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd.
5. Shakespeare, MacbethLADY MACBETH. Yet here's a spot. DOCTOR. Hark, she speaks! I will set down what comes from her, to satisfy my remembrance the more strongly. LADY MACBETH. Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One- two -why then 'tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? DOCTOR. Do you mark that? LADY MACBETH. The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? What, will these hands neer be clean? No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that. You mar all with this starting. DOCTOR. Go to, go to; you have known what you should not. GENTLEWOMAN. She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that. Heaven knows what she has known. LADY MACBETH. Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh! DOCTOR. What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charged. GENTLEWOMAN. I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity of the whole body. DOCTOR. Well, well, well- GENTLEWOMAN. Pray God it be, sir. DOCTOR. This disease is beyond my practice. Yet I have known those which have walked in their sleep who have died holily in their beds. LADY MACBETH. Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on's grave. DOCTOR. Even so? LADY MACBETH. To bed, to bed; there's knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.