Essay Ber Woyzeck

or Tragedy George Steiner THE DEATH O F TRAGEDY THE DEATH OF TRAGEDY mm GEORGE STEINER OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS New York Copyright © 1961, 1980 by George Steiner First published by Alfred A. The book begins by stressing the utter uniqueness of "high tragedy" as it was performed in fifth-century Athens.Knopf, Inc., 1961 First issued in paperback by Hill and Wang, 1963 First issued as an Oxford University Press paperback, New York, with a new Foreword, 1980 Reprinted by arrangement with the author Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Steiner, George, 1929 — The death of tragedy. Despite suggestive attempts by comparative anthropology to relate Greek tragedy to more archaic and widespread forms of ritual and mimetic practise, the fact remains that the plays of Aeschylus, of Sophocles and of Euripides are unique not only in stature but also in form and technique.

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Though devastating, the catastrophe in Othello is, finally, too trivial a thing, its triviality, its purely contingent character being both augmented and subtly undermined by the grandeur of the rhetoric. Johnson saw , Shakespeare's bent was not natively a tragic one.

Because it is so encompassing, so receptive to the plurality and simul- taneity of dive r se orders of experience — even in the house of Atreus someone is celebrating a birthday or cracking jokes — the Shakespearean vision is that of tragi-comedy .

If I am able to deal with literature in more than one language, it is because my father, from the outset, refused to recognize provincialism in the affairs of the mind. Foreword to the Galaxy Book Edition It is an ambiguous privilege to be allowed to write a new foreword to a book which is now twenty years old. I do not read, I do not try to interpret today the texts cited in The Death of Tragedy as I read and interpreted them before 1960.

But writers tend to be mutineers, even against generosit y. The plays I discuss in it are those which he first read to me and took me to see.

Inevitably, this book has taken on an identity of its own.

Above all, he taught me by the example of his own life that great art is not reserved to the specialist or the professional scholar, but that it is best known and loved by those who live most intensely. One is not the same writer as was the author at the time. But, this displacement being the more disconcerting, I do not even read myself as I then did.

vii Acknowledgments My warmest thanks go to Professor Whitney Oates and Professor R. I am the more grateful as this book does not represent precisely what its learned sponsors had in mind. Principally, however, this essay belongs to my father.

Those who have attended these occa- sions will know how much the speaker owes to the chairmanship and cross-fire of R. Blackmur and to the erudite vigilance of Professors E. This grant enabled me to get on with the job while teaching only part-time. The counsel he gave and the pleasure he took in the work were both of great value to me.

It is as if the best of Beckett's, of lonesco's, of Pinter's plays were the satyre-plays to unwrit- ten tragedies, as Happy Days is the satiric epilogue to some distant "Prometheus." If there has been a recent tragedian in a genuine is probably Edward Bond . but insufficiently stated and never pressed home, is the inti- mation of a radical split between true tragedy and Shake- spearean "ttagcrdy ." I have said that there are verv few writers who have chosen to dramatize a stringently negative, , de- spaii hi K view of man's presence in the world.

But both Bingo and his variations on Lear are literary, almost aca- demic reflections on the nature and eclipse of tragic forms rather than inventions or re-inventions in their own right. They include the Greek tragedians, Racine , Buchner and, at certain xu Foreword ggiois, Sttindbe ig The same vision animates Lear and Ti - mon of Athens.


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