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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
Renaissance Tragedy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0133  Monday, 12 February 2007

From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Saturday, 10 Feb 2007 14:19:36 -0500
Subject: 18.0113 Renaissance Tragedy
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0113 Renaissance Tragedy

Hannibal Hamlin asks, "does tragedy disappear with the Puritan 
revolution (and do you mean during it or after it?)?  I suppose with the 
closing of the theaters, tragedy is at least taken off the stage, but 
then so is everything else.  But don't the royalists cast the whole 
historical period as tragic?  Isn't Eikon Basilike a tragedy of sorts? 
Or is it that tragedy and Puritanism are incompatible?  But then what to 
do with Milton?  Leaping ahead in time and across the ocean, isn't The 
Scarlet Letter a kind of Puritan tragedy (or tragedy of Puritanism)?"

This requires no quick answer, because there are several inherent 
confusions of terms. The "Puritan Revolution" is a misnomer: it was the 
English Civil Wars (note the plural), for which Protestants (not simply 
or only the sect known as "Puritans") were largely (but not solely) 
responsible, and though those in power tended to be of that persuasion 
after the regicide, the closing of the theatres occurred long before the 
Cromwellian Protectorate.

The _Eikon Basilike_ ("King's Book") may be "tragic," but it is 
certainly not a "tragedy" by generic definition: it is an apologia, and 
to some degree a histrionic remonstrance, and it is melodramatic, but it 
is prose, not drama.

Milton's "dramatic poem" (_Samson Agonistes_) is seen by some as 
tragic-and in terms of classical tragedy, it is-but it is also comic 
from a Christian perspective, and, I have argued, seems to have been 
intended by Milton to be interpreted both ways.

But the quality of being "tragic" does not automatically equate to 
"tragedy," Hannibal. Certainly, Milton's being struck with blindness at 
the height of his career, or Charles' execution before his fiftieth 
birthday were "tragic"-but they are not "tragedy."

And if tragedy doesn't survive in the Western world (albeit having 
undergone a sea-change") in _West Side Story_ or _Death of a Salesman_ 
or a hundred other dramas before and after, on both sides of the pond, 
then it never existed at all.

I'm not sure what you were driving at, but I think the original post was 
asking something else.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

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