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Only Lear and Timon of Athen s, an eccentric and perhap s truncated text whose inti mate links w ith Lear are obv ious but difficult to make out, form a real exception.Thus, to an extent which I failed to grasp clearly when writing this book, the dramas of Shakespeare are not a re- nascence of or humanistic variant on the absolute tragic model They are, rather, a rejection of this model in the light of tragi-comic and "realistic" criteria.
Printed in the United States of America FOR MY FATHER Acknowledgments In a shorter, more schematic version, this book was first presented at a Gauss Seminar at Princeton University. The expansion of the book into its present form was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foun- dation administered through the Council of the Humanities of Princeton University to foster work in comparative literature.
I wish to add a special thanks to Roger Sessions, who gave to the seminar the warmth and authority of his presence.
No fertility or seasonal rites however expressive, no dance-dramas of south-east Asia however intricate, are at all comparable in inexhaustibility of meaning, economy of means and personal authority of invention with Greek clas- sical tragedy.
It has been argued, plausibly, that Greek trag- edy, as it has come down to us, was devised by Aeschylus, that it represents one of those very rare instances of the crea- tion of a major aesthetic mode by an individual of genius.
Indeed, the latter embodies so specific a congruence of philosophic and poetic energies, that it flourished during only a very brief period, some sev - enty-five years or less. What I ought to have made plainer is the fact that within the corpus of ex- tant Greek tragic plays those which manifest "tragedy" in an absolute form, which give to the word "tragedy" the rigour and weight I aim at throughout the argument, are very few.
What I identify as "tragedy" in the radical sense is the dra- matic representation or.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. Furthermore, I would try to develop a theme which, as I now see it, was implicit in the argument from the outset, but which I did not have the nerve or acuity to make explicit. If I was to rewrite The Death of Tragedy (and my favourite critic was the one who lamented the waste of so fine a title ix Foreword on this particular work), I would attempt a change of em- phasis at two significant points.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. 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.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 .