The Retrospective Technique and Its Implications for Tragedy


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

"Mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." - Flannery O'Connor

Structural elements can play a determining role not only in the way a work of art renders experience but also in what experiences are rendered. This is as true in drama as it is in poetry. The specific aim of this paper is to examine the kinds of experience that can be rendered by the retrospective plot. It will be argued, first of all, that the retrospective plot implies a rational universe, one in which the past possesses and under pressure will yield answers to problems of the present and, second, that this radical assumption of the retrospective plot (i.e., that the human condition, with all its attendant problems, is at least potentially comprehendible by the mind of man) makes it imperative that the playwright choosing the retrospective plot as the form for a tragedy separate himself from its assumptions. The separation is essential, for a rational universe becomes a tragic one only when its rationality is seen to be an illusion.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.