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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: December ::
Re: Fate and Tragic Flaw
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 1024. Monday, 26 December 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Dec 1994 23:17:13 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Fate in ROM
 
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Dec 1994 23:33:45 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   RE Tragic Flaw
 
(3)     From:   Alice Kroman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Dec 1994 23:56:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.1022 Q: Tragic Flaw
 
(4)     From:   Naomi Liebler <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Dec 94 10:57:00 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
 
(5)     From:   Bernice W. Kliman <KLIMANB@SNYFARVA.BITNET>
        Date:   Friday, 23 Dec 1994 15:07:45 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
 
(6)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Friday, 23 Dec 1994 15:23:19 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
 
(7)     From:   Bernice W. Kliman <KLIMANB%
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Dec 1994 21:29:08 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   tragic flaw
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Dec 1994 23:17:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Fate in ROM
 
Naomi Liebler's comment that divinely ordained fate does not apply to Christian
London in the 1590s (and I DO NOT quote her precisely) seems to leave out the
Calvinists. Isn't the whole idea of the elect and the preterite founded on the
concept that we humans are fated by god to salvation or damnation NO MATTER
WHAT WE DO! Salvation cannot be purchased. Mr. Hooker might object to this
position (and did), but John Calvin's followers were undaunted and remain so
still. I remember quite vividly Maurice Armstrong (historian and Calvinist
minister) explaining the concept on a cold, gray winter day at Ursinus College
in 1959. Armstrong was quite convincing.
 
Yours, Bill
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Dec 1994 23:33:45 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        RE Tragic Flaw
 
In answer to Michael Groves' question, try the Leon Golden and O.B. Hardison
edition of ARISTOTLE'S POETICS (Prentice-Hall, 1968) 183-184. Hardison points
to A. C. Bradley's loose interpretation of hamartia. Hamartia seems to be a
term from archery, and, as Naomi Liebler has already pointed out, means missing
the mark.
 
Yours, Bill
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alice Kroman <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Dec 1994 23:56:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.1022 Q: Tragic Flaw
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.1022 Q: Tragic Flaw
 
Dear Michael Groves:
 
I am a student at George Mason Univeristy, studying (interestingly enough),
English Literature and Theatre.  It so happens that you have just stumbled upon
my two favorite areas of study.  Without digging too much through my books, I
have tried to give you a little guidance in regards to your request:
 
 
>My question concerns Victorian commentators and Shakespeare's tragedies and
>the notion of "tragic flaw." How has the Victorian idea of "tragic flaw"
>affected our understanding of Shakespeare's tragedies? Is "tragic flaw" a
>Victorian idea? I am looking for some directon for further research.
 
As you state a little later in your probe, the idea of harmartia or tragic flaw
was developed by Aristotle, not the Victorians.  However, Aristotle did have a
big come back in the Victorian era.  With the industrial revolution, the middle
class grew and became educated.  With an industrialized society, they had much
more leisure time and turned to reading voluminous works such as Dickens and
Thackeray.
 
It is hard to say how the Victorian idea of tragic flaw has affected our
understanding of Shakespeare's tragedies, because we all have already been
biased by it.  I study both Shakespeare and the Victorians extensively, and
although Shakespeare shows up frequently in Thackeray and Hardy, I seldom think
of "the dead white guys" (as we like to call them) when reading Shakespeare.
The influence simply was not there when Shakespeare was writing.
 
[Stuff deleted]
>So, what am I looking for? Who in the Victorian period developed the notion of
>a "tragic flaw"? What are some primary and secondary sources I might read? Or
>can you point me in some direction where I might dig up the information?
 
When looking for any theorists in the Victorian Era, one must always begin with
Thomas Carlyle.  And I warn you, his philosophy is extremely difficult to
comprehend -- on any level.
 
This idea of the relationship between The Victorians and Shakespeare seems to
me, a fabulously  interesting one.  I wonder if anyone would be willing to
develop this further.  I have just recently completed a paper on the use of
Shakespeare in William Thackeray's _Vanity Fair_.  Any interest in further
discussion on Thackeray or any other of the D.W.G.'s?
 
Hope this is some help,
 
Alice Marie Kroman

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(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Naomi Liebler <
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Date:           Friday, 23 Dec 94 10:57:00 EST
Subject: 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
 
Michael Groves asks for critical commentary on the evolution of the notion of a
"tragic flaw." The very best discussions I know of are these: Stephen Booth's
*King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy,* New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1983 (Booth is also the most readable of these); Gerald Else's
monumental *Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument,* Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1967; Bernard Weinberg, "From Aristotle to Pseudo-Aristotle," in Elder
Olson, ed., *Aristotle's Poetics and English Literature,* Chicago, Univ. of
Chicago Press, 1965, and a brief but solid discussion in Jonathan Dollimore's
*Radical Tragedy,* Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984.
 
Happy hunting.
Naomi Liebler
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bernice W. Kliman <KLIMANB@SNYFARVA.BITNET>
Date:           Friday, 23 Dec 1994 15:07:45 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
 
To Michael Groves:
 
Peter Alexander in his book *Hamlet: Father and Son* has some interesting
comments on hamartia, a word, he says, that is very-much over-emphasized; it
appears only once in Aristotle and its exact meaning is rather unclear.
 
I'll try a search of the OED to see when the phrase tragic flaw began to be
used.
 
Bernice W. Kliman
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Friday, 23 Dec 1994 15:23:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.1022  Q: Tragic Flaw
 
Michael Groves:
 
For a completely different view of hamartia (the "tragic flaw"), take a look at
Gerald Else's *Aristotle's _Poetics_: The Argument".  His views are radical,
the classicists tell me, but his is the only rendering of the Poetics that has
ever made dramatic sense to me.  In his view, if I recall it correctly,
hamartia is an offense against a blood relative.  He helps tease out how
Aristotle used this idea in relation to Oedipus.  Reading Else will also give
you a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT idea of what is imitated in dramatic mimesis; he's
become my bedrock theorist for all dramatic interpretation.
 
Else also published a shorter version, but reading the full edition, 600-odd
pages of close analysis, is worth the time and effort.
 
Jim Schaefer
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bernice W. Kliman <KLIMANB%
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Date:           Friday, 23 Dec 1994 21:29:08 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        tragic flaw
 
The OED (supplement to 1st edition and, of course, 2nd edition) has as its 1st
mention of tragic flaw 1913!
 
Here is the entry:
 
b. *tragic flaw = hamartia. 1913 L. COOPER* Aristotle on Art of Poetry ii. 40
For Mary, the tragicflaw of the hero, described as an `error of judgment', or a
`shortcoming', needs immediate illustration. The single Greek word, hamartia,
lays the emphasis upon the want of insight within the man, but is elastic
enough to mean also the outward fault resulting from it. 1950 W. FARNHAM*
Shakespeare's Tragic Frontier i. 4 In Brutus then, Shakespeare discovered the
noble hero with a tragic flaw. By that discovery he made it possible for
English tragedy to reach a greatness hitherto attained only by Greek tragedy.
1970 English Studies LI. 235 This flaw in the Hegge Pilate..approximates very
closely what is generally meant in dramatic criticism as `tragic flaw', and the
Hegge Pilate may be the first tragic hero in English
drama.
 
As for *Rom*, while many events and traits of character combine to effect the
tragic conclusion, Romeo, by giving in the masculine value of revenge,
certainly helped.  If he had not killed Tybalt, there would have been no
tragedy, in spite of the death of Mercutio.  Similarly, if Juliet had been able
to tell her father or mother that she was already married, there would have
been no tragedy.  Yes, either the Friar or the Nurse could also have prevented
the tragedy, and the Friar especially is culpable (he should have sent
Balthazar as he had said he would with the message to Romeo; he should not have
left Juliet alone in the tomb; he should have posted a guard at her side as
soon as he sent the message &c.).  But the protagonists also play their role.
Are their flaws tragic? I would say "No," because while their flaws contribute,
the action their behavior generates could have been prevented.
 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
Bernice
 

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