Woyzeck and Othello: The Dimensions of Melodrama


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

...I am in a chaos of principles - groping in the dark - acting by instinct and not after principle...I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men and women with greater insight than mine - if indeed, they ever discover it - at least in our time. "For who knoweth what is good for man in this life? - and who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" Hardy, Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure's lonely death epitomizes the date of a whole generation of spiritual orphans. Orphans have always been prominent in literature, of course, and so also their close compatriots - the misshaped, the deranged, the illegitimate, and the disenfranchised. But along with such traditional figures, the nineteenth century spawned a different kind of outcast, having neither the ingeniousness and profundity of great villains like Edmund or Richard III, nor the triumphant innocence of a Tom Jones or a David Copperfield. Such is "Friedrich Johann Franz Woyzeck, soldier, rifleman in the second regiment, second battalion, fourth company, born on the Feast of the Annunciation...thirty years, seven months, and twelve days old."1

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