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Tragedy or comedy or tragicomedy...

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    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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  • Pietro_Mercurios
    replied
    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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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    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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  • Grey Mouser
    replied
    '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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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    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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  • Grey Mouser
    replied
    Well I'll just add this from a site I found on the net.

    Aristotle's definition of tragedy: A tragedy is the imitation in dramatic form of an action that is serious and complete, with incidents arousing pity and fear wherewith it effects a catharsis of such emotions. The language used is pleasurable and throughout appropriate to the situation in which it is used. The chief characters are noble personages ("better than ourselves," says Aristotle) and the actions they perform are noble actions.

    Central features of the Aristotelian archetype:

    1. The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness. If the hero's fall is to arouse in us the emotions of pity and fear, it must be a fall from a great height.

    2. Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great, he/she is not perfect. Tragic flaw, hubris (excessive pride or passion), and hamartia (some error) lead to the hero's downfall.

    3. The hero's downfall, therefore, is partially her/his own fault, the result of one's own free choice, not the result of pure accident or villainy, or some overriding malignant fate.

    4. Nevertheless, the hero's misfortune is not wholly deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime. The hero remains admirable.

    5. Yet the tragic fall is not pure loss - though it may result in the hero's death, before it, there is some increase in awareness, some gain in self-knowledge or, as Aristotle puts it, some "discovery."

    6. Though it arouses solemn emotion - pity and fear, says Aristotle, but compassion and awe might be better terms - tragedy, when well performed, does not leave its audience in a state of depression. It produces a catharsis or an emotional release at the end, one shared as a common experience by the audience.
    Source: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reube...ppend/AXH.HTML

    Seems appropriate to post a summary of Aristotle's definition of the tragic hero here in this thread. This is probably the classic template and I'm pretty sure Shakespeare was aware of it when writing his plays ie for step 5 above remember Hamlet's 'the readiness is all' speech to Horatio, and for Macbeth a twisted cynical version as his personal 'enlightenment' is pretty much expressed in his 'tommorow and tommorrow and tommorow' speech.

    Now, what I'm thinking is that there's a fairly strong case to be made for Elric fitting the mould of tragic hero in the Aristotlean sense. This, in addition to all the other stuff Mike worked into the Elric saga as well at such a young age.

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    An interesting book that deals with this topic that I have recently reread after a long hiatus: Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study, by H. D. F. Kitto. Highly recommended.

    I'm still interested in what others have to say about this topic.

    LSN

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    An addendum to this topic occurred to me the other day. (I've been so busy -- still am -- that I've not had time to post it.)

    The original formula to which Adlerian alluded, that the tragic protagonist must be "noble" (or once, "royal") was an outgrowth in part of the structure of societies in bygone times. The goal for a tragedy was that the the protagonist had to make some decision, or come to some fate, that led to his downfall or death. The trick was that we had to care about the character beyond mere identification and the consequent pathos.

    In order to have the audience "care" about the character's fate, it was reasoned that he had to have an effect on society outside his immediate sphere of friends and acquaintances. It followed that characters from the highest strata of society (i.e., great nobles of distinction) were the obvious choices. Kings and dukes and princes had enormous impact on the lives of those on the lower steps of the social/political pyramid. People had first hand experience of the sometimes wrenching changes that accompanied the death of one of these people, so that their fate had both a public and a private dimension.

    Modern tragedies must construct other reasons for why the reader should feel a sense of more than personal loss and purgation when a tragic protagonist dies, for instance. It's very difficult. Thomas Mann built up Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice to try to produce this effect. I'm not sure he succeeds in producing more than deep pathos; most readers just don't feel that strongly when a famous writer or artist dies (although some of them do). The artist just doesn't usually have that much of an impact on the lives of the general populace.

    There are occasions in real life which elicit this sort of response, perhaps. (Maybe the death of John Lennon for some?) But it's not that easy to pull off in modern fiction. Times and circumstances change. Still, I think it can be done, just not easily.

    Mes 10 centimes.

    LSN

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  • Grey Mouser
    replied
    ...tragedy,comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
    historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-
    comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
    poem unlimited...

    Hamlet
    There were quite a few genres in Shakespeare's time too...:lol:

    Those 'noble' characters incognito mentioned by LSN sound like a development or variation on the classical Greek eiron eg. Odysseus.

    I suppose comedy should end upbeat with all the characters integrating happily with their circumstances after much ado, wheras tragedy should end downbeat with the 'great' characters suffering disintigration as a result of, in Hamlet's words 'some passion grown too much', for Macbeth - ambition, for Othello - jealousy, for Lear - pride etc.

    Twelfth Night should technically be a comedy but the characters are not 'integrated with their circumstances' at the end in the classical mould in that Malvolio stalks off in a genuine fit of pique and Orsino never quite convinces that he's going to be happy with Viola, thus implying that Viola won't be either. Olivia, Antonio, Toby and Maria all end with classical comedic integration. That's my take on why Twelfth Night is a 'problem' comedy.

    Elric is a really great modern character in the Tragic mould, more sophisticated than Shakespeare's chappies, and of course not only the hero (anti-hero) ends in a state of disintigration, so does the whole world (even though Elric heralds a new age with the Horn of Fate you never can feel quite happy about Stormbringer dancing off to be a part of it). And Dancers is a great example of the Comic method, all characters ending in a state of integration with their circumstances.

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    Quite true. They're usually comedies with an element of fantasy (e.g., "Midsummer Night's Dream") or problem comedies, which is to say, tragicomedies. "Measure for Measure" fits into this category of yours, as does "Twelfth Night." The latter play gives us another pattern: "noble" characters incognito, and put into an absurd situation, sometimes vis-أ -vis "low" characters, like Malvolio.

    LSN

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  • xidrep
    replied
    Some of Shakey's plays appear to deliberately place the farcical emphasis on the 'nobility' or ostensibly central characters; I mean look at Orsino. Right airhead.

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    As for Romeo and Juliet, it's extremely immature. Mercutio steals the show, then he gets killed. We're left with the idiotic Juliet, and the even more mentally deficient Romeo, to entertain us the rest of the way. "A plague on both your grouses!"

    "Do you bite your thumb at me, Sir?"

    LSN

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    Beeep! Sorry, Perdix, and thank you for playing.

    It's not "Royal" -- it's "Noble". I know that Adlerian wrote "royal," but we know what he meant, and in books from a certain time, one was regarded as a prerequiste for the other. (We've outgrown such foolish notions in modern times, right?) If you subscribe to the antiquated notion that a person can be "noble" simply because of an accident of birth, I suppose you'll believe that the Windsors are "noble." I'd say they were "Royal" (more or less), but hardly possessed of "nobility."

    Modern literature looks for merit in the character that will grant him the possession of nobility of mind or spirit. I'm afraid that disqualifies your "Royals" (such as they are) from consideration.

    Of course, long ago, one had to be "Royal" to be "Noble." Possession of both characteristics seems theoretically possible, but it's not necessarily what one would expect.

    Postscriptum: A number of tragicomedies involved scenarios not unlike those provided by the Windsors: a character who at first glance should be noble, but on closer examination, definitely isn't. Beaumont & Fletcher used this pattern in A King and No King.

    (It contains that immortal speech, "I'm old and rough, and every part except that which should grows stiffer.")

    LSN

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  • xidrep
    replied
    Tragedy only applies to Royalty? Yeah! Our Royal Family has become a living, breathing, reality-TV Tragi-comedy!

    I'm afraid 'classical' tragedies always make me laugh, inappropriately, in that back-of-the-classroom fashion. Terrible. Much as I love the play, the end of Romeo and Juliet just cracks me up. I mean, daft cow. And as for him...hilarious.

    Rotten, aren't I? We spent quite a large part of Literature classes writing new, farcical dialogue for 'dark' classics. Encouraged by the teacher, oddly enough...wouldn't be allowed now, I shouldn't think; involves too much freedom of thought

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  • A_Non_Ymous
    replied
    Adlerian makes an interesting point. I wouldn't "completely" subscribe to the definition of tragedy (an old one) that requires that the tragic protagonist be noble, but it's the archetype.

    Modern tragedies are forced to imbue the tragic protagonist with something like "nobility" by showing them to be "great" via some high intellectual, social, or military distinction won by personal merit.

    Some examples from Thomas Mann, "Death in Venice," Doktor Faustus.

    An example from sf: Roger Zelazny's "He Who Shapes."

    If the character isn't in some way exalted, he can generate pathos, but not the sense of tragedy that derives from the classical mode.

    Less than exalted characters are good for comedy, of course. The picaro is one classic model.

    LSN

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