Classical Influences on English Poetry

By J. A. K. Thomson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
TRAGEDY

DRAMA begins in religion. The celebrants of some rite mime an incident in their religious history. Thus the incidents connected with the Resurrection were mimed in some mediaeval churches; the original and very simple performance was gradually elaborated, the language of the actors changed from Latin to the vernacular, and an elementary drama evolved which under various extraneous influences became secularised, and finally an independent work of art. This is much the history of Greek drama, except that it never became entirely secularised, at least in the case of tragedy. It accounts for much that appears singular or strangely unmodern in classical tragedy--its seemingly rigid formalism, its lack of what is called realism, the presence throughout of a Chorus that seems designed to do nothing but hold up the action and give away the plot. To these apparent disadvantages, retained by religious conservatism, the tragic poets had to accommodate their art.

They had, besides, to work under a material restriction-- the shape of a Greek theatre. Everybody has seen a model or picture of that, and it is easy to understand how it came to assume such a form. If a number of people start a performance in the open air, they will soon have a crowd about them. The crowd will naturally tend to form a ring round the performers; hence the ancient theatre was roughly circular. When people want to see as well as hear, the spectator at the back must be elevated above those in front. So Greek theatres were nearly always cut into a hill-side, up which the seats rose in tiers. The 'orchestra'--the circular floor on which the Chorus danced-- was on the ground level. At first the actors seem to have performed in the orchestra; at some later time a narrow stage

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Classical Influences on English Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 5
  • Contents 7
  • Chapter One - The Epic 9
  • Chapter Two - The Epic Tradition in Antiquity 30
  • Chapter Three - The Epic Tradition in Modern Times: Milton 53
  • Chrapter Four - Didactic Poetry 75
  • Chapter Five - Tragedy 97
  • Chapter Six - Comedy 119
  • Chapter Seven - Lyric Poetry 138
  • Chapter Eight - Elegiac Poetry 159
  • Chapter Nine - The Pastoral 172
  • Chapter Ten - Satire 196
  • Chapter Eleven - The Epigram 239
  • Appendix 247
  • Index 265
  • Author's Quoted 270
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