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Tragedy or comedy or tragicomedy...

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  • #16
    Shakespearean tragedy differs in some ways from Aristotle's dicta.

    In classical tragedy (e.g., Sophocles), there is a sense that the disaster could not have been avoided. There is a sense of inevitability about it -- call it "fate."

    In Shakespeare, there is not in general that sense of inevitability. In Hamlet, for example, Hamlet might have averted the tragedy up until nearly the very last. He doesn't do it, of course, and we have the story we know. I've seen arguments about the Xtian element in this dialectic: Shakespeare's protagonists always have open to them that small window of "salvation." It is thought that in some ways, Elizabethan tragedy owes more to the home-grown morality plays and Seneca than to classical Greek models. Don't expect Elizabethan tragedy to conform too closely to Aristotle's model.

    I won't even start on the violations of the classical dramatic unities.

    LSN

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    • #17
      'The laws of time, place, person he observeth
      From no needful rule he swerveth.'

      Well Ben Jonson himself was a stickler for the unities, but he always was a little critical of Shakespeare, though he liked him well enough.

      No doubt you're right about the Elizabethans and tragedy, although I'd see Shakespeare as the kind of dude who would play around with the form as it were.

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      • #18
        Originally posted by Grey Mouser

        Well Ben Jonson himself was a stickler for the unities, but he always was a little critical of Shakespeare, though he liked him well enough.
        And Ben Jonson wasn't exactly always classical, either.

        I once read a neat reduction of Jonson's "comedy of humours" that reflected on his debt to the morality play:

        - Choose one of the seven deadly sins, and make him the hero
        - The other deadly sins are then in league to profit from his obsession

        That describes Volpone pretty well.

        Originally posted by Grey Mouser

        No doubt you're right about the Elizabethans and tragedy, although I'd see Shakespeare as the kind of dude who would play around with the form as it were.
        It is thought that they didn't violate these rules all that knowingly. It is more that they were following the traditions of English theatre.

        The same issues arise in the tragedies of Webster, Marston, Tourneur, and Middleton.

        It is a mistake, also, to assume that acquaintence with Greek classical learning was widespread at this time. Most of what the educated classes knew about the Greek classics came through their Roman interpreters, who put their own peculiar stamp on things. Consider the high regard for Seneca's curious closet dramas . . .

        LSN

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        • #19
          Well, this is all very high fallutin', but apart from Woody Allen, there's hardly been a mention of the Great American Tradition of (can't say Tragicomedy, as its been defined), Comic, or Absurdist Tragedies. The work of Kurt Vonnegut, 'Slaughterhouse 5', 'Cat's Cradle', etc. etc. Joseph Heller, 'Catch 22'. Thomas Pynchon, 'Gravity's Rainbow', 'V', etc. There are many more.

          Usually, there are no noble heroes involved in those books, but purposeful attempts made to depict fairly ordinary people being caught up in extraordinary, ridiculous and horrific events and situations.

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          • #20
            V is black humor. It was a very popular mode at the time the book came out. Its reputation has faded a bit with the years. I like the book. Gravity's Rainbow is harder to classify. Vonnegut, also, although it sometimes seems not far from the sensibility of black humor.

            Heller's Catch-22 is American picaresque. It has some interesting connections to things like Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls or his famous play, "The Inspector General."

            I would say all of these books (in their subtle ways) might fit under the heading of "comedy," but the point is arguable, to say the least. As in a lot of the best comedy, there is a serious sub-structure. "Absurdist comedy" is just a riff on the comic, and it has been done in a lot of other places, obviously. We could no doubt name names here. The mode was very, very popular in the late '50s and the '60s. Duerrenmatt and Peter Weiss might fit into the mold, at times.

            By the way, I don't think this topic is in the least "high fallutin'." It's just reasoning about literary principles and historical examples. That's hardly "rocket science," as the popular idiom puts it. :?

            LSN

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