Article Title

Isben's Cycle as Hegelian Tragedy


Brian Johnston


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

The lnutility of Tragedy. Tragedy, in the modem theater, is a genre more honored in repute than in performance, and Ibsen, inasmuch as he is admired, is not admired generally as a tragedian. In college courses tragedy, in various guises, is taught respectfully; and having a "tragic vision" is always considered an impressive cachet for a dramatist to possess. But the creation of a full scale, multidimensional tragic argument about the modem world ( of Aristotelian "magnitude") does not appeal to theatergoers, (still less to film-goers) nor to modem playwrights. It goes against the thrust of current actor training, too, which is to keep the actor reassuringly close to the same level of experience as audiences, to get audiences to find themselves on familiar ground with the actor and the world of the play and not to establish the undemocratic aesthetic distance that the scale of action and the expanding perspectives necessary to tragedy insist upon. Revivals of Greek tragedy, like those of Serban, Suzuki, Sellars or Mnouchkine1, reveal the power of ancient tragedy to speak effectively through specially devised new theatric conventions: but the exoticism of these productions keeps the details of our own contemporary world unrealized from tragic perspectives. The same goes for Elizabethan revivals: even in modem dress, the terms of these tragedies are not those of our modem world so that the experience of the tragic becomes part of an exotic excursion into foreign, and so safer, territory. As George Bernard Shaw remarked, "Shakespeare has put ourselves on the stage, but not our situations. . . . Ibsen supplies the want left by Shakespeare. He gives us not only ourselves, but ourselves in our situations."2 Or, rather, our situations transfigured by tragic perspectives.

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