Tragedy and Tragic Theory: An Analytical Guide

By Richard H. Palmer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Flowering of the Human Spirit

While the tragic hero always occupied an important place in definitions of tragedy, no theory before the middle of the nineteenth century suggested that heroism possessed its own intrinsic value. Instead, most treated the hero as a means to an end, either as a stimulus for audience response or as a means of revealing a higher cosmic value. Plato indirectly began speculation on the importance of the hero in tragedy when he objected that the tragic protagonist demonstrated demoralizing weaknesses, implying that the character should serve as the source of any didactic utility that was salvaged from tragedy. Aristotle gave precedence to plot, but the tragic character's hamartia figured prominently as a source of katharsis. Medieval and Neoclassic theorists treated the protagonist as the main vehicle for the "fable" of tragedy, and Romantics agreed so generally on the hero as the means for reaching metaphysical awareness that character study became a distinguishing feature of Romantic criticism. Psychologically oriented critics presented the hero as an object for vicarious identification or as the primary stimulus for specific emotional processes in the audience, and the Ritualists saw the hero as a necessary participant in the tragic rite.

The Pericleans and Elizabethans built Humanism on cosmic foundations, but modern anthropocentric theories isolate the hero from any meaningful system of external value. This demand that man be the measure of man prevailed sufficiently in 1843 for Kierkegaard to complain that the drama of his own day held the individual entirely responsible for individual actions, thus denying the substantive categories demanded by earlier Greek and Christian tragedy. While neo-Rational Positivists did reject metaphysics in an effort to reconcile tragedy with the methodology of sociology and scientific inquiry, most neo-Humanists retained a metaphysical perspective, albeit a

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Tragedy and Tragic Theory: An Analytical Guide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter Outline ix
  • Introduction: the Problem of Understanding Tragedy 1
  • Notes 13
  • Part I Approaches to Tragic Theory 15
  • Chapter 1 The Audience Response 17
  • Notes 49
  • Chapter 2 The Dualistic Chasm 53
  • Conclusions 85
  • Chapter 3 The Flowering of the Human Spirit 87
  • Part II Toward a Definition of Tragedy 103
  • Chapter 4 The Circle of Inquiry 105
  • Chapter 5 The Scope of Tragedy 133
  • Part III The Application of Theory 163
  • Chapter 6 A Sampling of Tragedy 165
  • Chapter 7 - Conclusion 201
  • Appendix: Biographies of Principal Theorists 205
  • Selected Bibliography 219
  • Index 225
  • About the Author 237
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