Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Tragedy and Outrage: Hardys Scedase

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Tragedy and Outrage: Hardys Scedase

Article excerpt

A standard reference work gives the following definition of hubris: "Overweening pride which results in the misfortune of the protagonist of a tragedy. It is the particular form of hamartia, or tragic flaw, which results from excessive pride, ambition and overconfidence. Hubris leads the protagonist to break a moral law or ignore a divine warning with calamitous results." (1)

Oddly, there is no mention of the fact that hubris was also the usual Athenian term for rape. (2) Not that the modern crime of "rape" or "sexual violence" could have the same meaning or the same associations in Greek antiquity as it does in the twenty-first-century West. But hubris (or hybris) would be the usual criminal category for forced sexual activity, whether homosexual or heterosexual. It might be argued that these two meanings of the term are simply an odd coincidence or that the antique Athenian use of the term is obsolete and of no importance for a modern understanding of tragedy, and that to invoke a usage that pre-dates Renaissance tragedy by two millenia is anachronistic and misleading. These objections, however, are themselves symptomatic of the modern drive to cleanse tragedy of its horror. The present article considers one example, among many possible ones, in which tragic spectacle is likely to lead spectators neither to a sense of reconciliation nor to a recognition of transcendent albeit harsh justice. Alexandre Hardy's early seventeenth-century Scedase, ou l'Hospitalite violee (Scedase, or Violated Hospitality) serves as an example of the tragic representation of horrible actions and allows us to infer the emotional experience of the theatrical and reading public. The emotional spectrum of early modern French tragedy proposed here will include audience reactions different from "that majestic sadness that constitutes all the pleasure of tragedy," as Racine writes in his preface to Berenice. (3) Yet, even as we consider that the type of emotions both represented and provoked in their plays differs, we recall that seventeenth-century French tragic dramatists explicitly intended to awaken passionate feeling in the audience. As Georges Forestier writes, "the bundle of conventions that we call the classical rules was conceived with the intention of creating such an effect of illusion that the spectator is no longer aware of being a spectator but instead finds himself or herself on the same level as the heroes of the tragedy. This makes the spectator feel the same emotions as the characters, whose passions he adopts as his own" (le faisceau de conventions qu'on appelle les regles classiques a ete concu dans l'intention de creer un effet d'illusion tel que le spectateur s'oublie dans sa conscience de spectateur pour se retrouver de plain-pied avec les heros de la tragedie. Au point de se sentir agite des memes troubles que les personnages, et d'epouser leurs passions.) (4) This acceptance of the intended emotional impact of seventeeth-century French tragedy--now the dominant scholarly view--contrasts sharply with the vision of this period presented by philologists of the early and mid-twentieth century such as Leo Spitzer, who saw dramatists such as Racine as "baroque" authors who strove to reduce the audience's affective response through a process that Spitzer dubbed Klassiche Dampfung. (5)

TRAGEDY, A GENRE DEFINED BY ITS EMOTIONAL CONTENT AND EFFECT

The emotional content and impact of tragedy struck its earliest commentators as the central features of this art. In The Republic, Plato says

But we have not yet brought forward the heaviest count in our accusations:--the power which poetry has of harming even the good (and there are very few who are not harmed) ... The best of us, as I conceive, when we listen to a passage of Homer, or one of the tragedians, in which he represents some pitiful hero who is drawling out his sorrows in a long oration, or weeping, and smiting his breast--the best of us, you know delight in giving way to sympathy . …

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