May 31st, 2008

The Death Of Tragedy

We don't write tragedies anymore, even though we still write comedies.

We've handed the word "tragedy" over to the journalists for them to kick about.

When was the last time a serious writer wrote a serious play entitled "The Tragedy of X" or "X, A Tragedy"?

I'll bet it wasn't any later than 1920.

George Steiner has a book- which I haven't read- called The Death of Tragedy.  He says we  no longer write tragedy because we no longer possess a coherent religious or metaphysical world view. 


We're talking linguistic fashion not cultural shift. It's about a word dropping out of use.

We find the word "tragedy" pretentious, hi-falutin, embarrassing, devalued-

Probably because the canonical tragedies (The Greeks, Shakespeare, Corneille and Racine) are about kings and heroes- and- for all sorts of good historical and cultural reasons- we no longer believe in such cannaille

But we still produce dramas in which poor saps come an inevitable cropper. 

Dramas that move us to tears- that provoke emotional catharsis.

Isn't Brokeback Mountain a tragedy in all but name? 

And what's in a name?