Dearth of tragedy

"where the fusion of appropriate elements is realized, we do find more than the individual poet: aeschylus is followed by sophocles and euripides; marlowe, by shakespeare, jonson, and webster; corneille, by racine. with goethe came schiller, kleist and buchner. ibsen, strindberg, and chekhov were alive in 1900. but these constellations are splendid accidents. they are extremely difficult to account for. what we should expect, and actually find, are long spells of time during which no tragedies and, in fact, no drama of any serious pretensions is being produced. but although this is a reasonable view of the matter, it is distinctly modern. it reflects the problem we are concerned with: the long pursuit of the tragic ideal. it is because there have been in english drama no successors to the elizabethans, nor in french drama any later rivals to corneille and racine; it is because the spanish theatre after calderon falls into dusty silence and because the death of buchner seems to date so precisely the close of the high period of german tragedy, that we now look on the creation of great drama as a rare and rather mysterious piece of good fortune....we cannot understand the romantic movement if we do not preceive at the heart of it the impulse toward drama. the classical imagination seeks to impose on experience attributes of order and accord. the romantic imagination injects into experience a central quality of drama and dialectic. the romantic mode is neither an ordering nor a criticism of life; it is a dramatization. and at the origins of the romantic movement lies an explicit attempt to revitalize the major forms of tragedy....the romantics believed that the vitality of drama was inseparable from the health of the body politic. that is the crux of shelley's argument in his defense of poetry: 'and it is indisputable that the highest perfection of human society has ever corresponded with the highest dramatic excellence: and that the corruption or extinction of drama in a nation where it has once flourished, is a mark of a corruption of manners, and an extinction of the energies which sustain the soul of socil life.' " - steiner

"in spite of all the unavoidable cleavages, disharmonies, animosities and antagonisms which are the perennial lot of human beings and human societies, there is a possibility--and this possibility is called culture when it is realized--of a community of men living together...in a state of tacit agreement on what the nature and meaning of human existence really is...such must have been the society for which the performances of the tragedies of aeschylus and sophocles were national celebrations; such were wide stretches of what we rather vaguely call the middle ages; such were, to judge by their artistic creations, the days of the renaissance and of elizabeth. the age of goethe, however, was not of this kind." - e. heller

"the rousseauist and romantic vision had specific psychological correlatives. it implied a radical critique of the notion of guilt. in the rousseauist mythology of conduct, a man could commit a crime either because his education had not taught him how to distinguish good and evil, or because he had been corrupted by society. responsibility lay with his schooling or environment, for evil cannot be native to the soul. and because the individual is not wholly responsible, he cannot be wholly damned. rousseauism closes the doors of hell. in the hour of truth, the criminal will be possessed with remorse. the crime will be undone or the error made good. crime leads not to punishment, but to redemption...this redemptive mythology may have social and psychological merit, freeing the spirit from the black forebodings of calvinism. but one thing is clear: such a view of the human condition is radically optimistic. it cannot engender any natural form of tragic drama. the romantic vision of life is non-tragic. in authentic tragedy, the gates of hell stand open and damnation is real. the tragic personage cannot evade responsibility...to ask of the gods why oedipus should have been chosen for his agony or why macbeth should have met the witches on his path, is to ask for reason and justification from the voiceless night. there is no answer. why should there be? if there was, we would be dealing with just or unjust suffering, as do parables and cautionary tales, not with tragedy." -g.s.

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