Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Comedy: famous quotes

“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
--- Charlie Chaplin.

"Dramatic comedy, from which fictional comedy is mainly descended, has been remarkably tenacious of its structural principles and character types."
(Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism)

"The days of Comedy are gone, alas!
When Congreve's fool could vie with Moliere's bete:  
Society is smooth'd to that excess, 
That manners hardly differ more than dress."
--- Byron

"Man is the merriest species of the creation, all above and below him are serious."
--- Addison
“This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.”
--- Horace Walpole.

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”
--- Peter Ustinov

“The duty of comedy is to correct men by amusing them.”
--- Moliere.

"In the hands of a comic genius the pretence of stupidity is the triumph of irony."

"In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter."
--- Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. 9 March 1748.

    "For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, Money, Persuasion, Supplication, Persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug,—push it a little—crowd it a little—weaken it a little, century by century: but only Laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand."
---  Satan, in Mark Twain's "The Chronicle of Young Satan" 

 “As the purpose of comedy is to correct the vices of men, I see no reason why anyone should be exempt.”
--- Moliere.

“The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays that part.”
--- Miguel de Cervantes.
"The principle of the humor is the principle that unincremental repetition, the literary imitation of ritual bondage, is funny. In a tragedy - Oedipus Tyrannus is the stock example - repetition leads logically to catastrophe. Repetition overdone or not going anywhere belongs to comedy, for laughter is partly a reflex, and like other reflexes it can be conditioned by a simple repeated pattern." (Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism)
"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."
--- Albert Einstein

“One always writes comedy at the moment of deepest hysteria.”
--- V. S. Naipaul.

“In tragedy every moment is eternity; in comedy, eternity is a moment.”
--- Christopher Fry.

“Comedy, we may say, is society protecting itself - with a smile.”
--- J. B. Priestley.

“Humor is properly the exponent of low things; that which first renders them poetical to the mind. The man of Humor sees common life, even mean life, under the new light of sportfulness and love; whatever has existence has a charm for him. Humor has justly been regarded as the finest perfection of poetic genius. He who wants it, be his other gifts what they may, has only half a mind; an eye for what is above him, not for what is about him or below him.”
--- Thomas Carlyle, in 'Schiller" (1831)

Honoré Daumier: Louis Philippe Transforming into a Pear
(Le Charivari, 1835);  “Poire” (pear) - French slang for “simpleton”

“It is not funny that anything else should fall down, only that a man should fall down ... Why do we laugh? Because it is a gravely religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.”
--- G. K. Chesterton, "Spiritualism", in All Things Considered (1908)

“The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic. It is only by the deepest suffering that one acquires true authority in the use of the comic, an authority which by one word transforms as by magic the reasonable creature one calls man into a caricature.”
--- Søren Kierkegaard, in Stages on Life's Way (1845)

"Laughter, while it lasts, slackens and unbraces the mind, weakens the faculties, and causes a kind of remissness and dissolution in all the powers of the soul; and thus far it may be looked upon as a weakness in the composition of human nature."
 --- Addison

Parody is critical intelligence in humorous mode.
“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”
--- Ludwig Wittgenstein, as quoted in "A View from the Asylum"

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

“Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith.”
--- Christopher Fry

“The perception of the comic is a tie of sympathy with other men, a pledge of sanity, and a protection from those perverse tendencies and gloomy insanities in which fine intellects sometimes lose themselves. A rogue alive to the ludicrous is still convertible. If that sense is lost, his fellow-men can do little for him.”
--- Ralph Waldo Emerso

“Comedy naturally wears itself out -- destroys the very food on which it lives; and by constantly and successfully exposing the follies and weaknesses of mankind to ridicule, in the end leaves itself nothing worth laughing at.”
--- William Hazlitt

"Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humour is not joy but sorrow. There is no humour in Heaven."
--- Mark Twain 

‘Laughter, while it lasts, slackens and unbraces the mind, weakens the faculties, and causes a kind of remissness and dissolution in all the powers of the soul; and thus far it may be looked upon as a weakness in the composition of human nature. But if we consider the frequent reliefs we receive from it, and how often it breaks the gloom which is apt to depress the mind and damp our spirits, with transient unexpected gleams of joy, one would take care not to grow too wise for so great a pleasure of life.’ 
--- Addison

“A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.”
--- Ernest Hemingway.

"The onset is sudden, with attacks of laughing and crying lasting for a few minutes to a few hours, followed by a respite and then a recurrence. The attack is accompanied by restlessness and on occasions violence when restraint is attempted. The patient may say that things are moving around in the head and that she fears that someone is running after her. The examination is notable for the absence of abnormal physical signs. No fever was detected, although some reported that they had had fever after a few days. The only abnormalities found were in the central nervous system. The pupils were frequently more dilated than controls, but always reacted to light. The tendon reflexes in the lower limbs were frequently exaggerated. There were no tremors or fits or losses of consciousness. The neck was not stiff." 
--- Rankin, A.M. & Philip, P.J. (1963). An epidemic of laughing in the Bukoba district of Tanganyika. Central African Medical Journal, 9, 167–170.

“A pleasant comedy, which paints the manners of the age, and exposes a faithful picture of nature, is a durable work, and is transmitted to the latest posterity. But a system, whether physical or metaphysical, commonly owes its success to its novelty; and is no sooner canvassed with impartiality than its weakness is discovered.”
--- David Hume

“The comic spirit is given to us in order that we may analyze, weigh, and clarify things in us which nettle us, or which we are outgrowing, or trying to reshape.”
 ---Thornton Wilder.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
--- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

“The comic and the tragic lie close together, inseparable, like light and shadow.”
--- Socrates.

“Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.”
---  Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

"If we may believe our logicians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter. He has a heart capable of mirth, and naturally disposed to it. "
--- Joseph Addison

"Laughter relieves us of superfluous energy, which, if it remained unused, might become negative, that is, poison. Laughter is the antidote. "
--- George Gurdjieff

"In the vain laughter of folly wisdom hears half its applause."
--- George Eliot

"But whoever gives birth to useless children, what would you say of him except that he has bred sorrows for himself, and furnishes laughter for his enemies."
--- Sophocles

"The sound of laughter is like the vaulted dome of a temple of happiness."
---  Milan Kundera

“Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
---  Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

“Humor is also a way of saying something serious.”  
---  T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

"Thou Art Translated"

Piero di Cosimo, The discovery of honey by Bacchus (1499)

Book Review

A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid. Edited by John F. Miller and Carole. E. Newlands. Wiley-Blackwell. 2014. 520pp. £120 (Cloth). £96.99 (ebook)

‘Antiquity is a closed system, providing a canon of texts whose perfection is beyond time: criticism of these texts is an eternal return, the rediscovery of the timeless verities that they contain.’ [....] No one, of course, has ever really believed this nonsense.’ (Fowler, 1994: 231)

This new collection of thirty-one essays explores how Ovid’s works have presented a range of ways of thinking and feeling about desire, love and death; power and aggression; exile and alienation; self-reflexivity and transformation; aesthetic traditions and the artist’s journey. Clearly, the universality of Ovid’s major themes and preoccupations helps to explain his major influence on the arts of the two millennia since his death. As a result, it is not difficult to understand why he has had a such a significant influence on the Western cultural tradition – from literature to opera, and from art to film. The sheer variety and adaptability of Ovid’s writings  helped him to become one of the major figures in classical literature. The wonderful transmission of his work suggests that he should be central to what E.D Hirsch has  called our ‘cultural literacy.’ This volume shows the canonical range of that literacy, through Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope (and many others) to passing popular cultural references that persist in ‘iconic’ films ranging from  Raymond Chandler and Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep (1946) to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). The Handbook will send the general reader back to Ovid with eyes wide open, and more alert to the intricacy of the poetry, and to the wonder of the subject matter. While the delightful burden of the past predominates, there are many culturally literate references on the glittering surface of the contemporary fields of gold.

Cultural literacy, far from being tradition for its own sake, shows that Ovid still speaks directly to present interests. In the past we have had romantic Ovids, classical Ovids, moral Ovids, rude and rebellious Ovids; arguably, he is what any reader will make of him in the act of reception, and in the context of a relative distance from the variety of original Ovids, still sparkling at the ‘source.’ The reception of Ovid springs from the relativity of reader’s approaches, and also from the layers of reception that filter and obscure, or enlighten and surprise. They playful ambiguity of Ovid’s poetic textures and phases of development entail multiple readings of the source texts and within the transformative playfulness of transformation. Given the situation outlined in these opening remarks, one the benefits of multiple-author approaches in a critical handbook of this type is that a wide range of receptions can be accommodated rather than an ideological limitation of vision, or an analytical narrowness of critical frame.

As a result of the variety of themes that emerge from the poetry it makes sense to construct different Ovids that can be shaped and adapted in different ways according to the spirit of the age. The reception of the poetry may spring from a discovery of the plenitude of the subject matter, such as the weaving of myths in the Metamorphoses and the varied approaches to love. Others have found inspiration in the imitation of his style and approach to topics; again, the key word is variety. Where one reader finds a pre-figuring of Troubadour, and later romantic or modern sensibilities, another finds gritty and cynical psychological realism. Ovid’s style draws the reader closer to the emotional drama but also pulls back with playful and ironic detachment.  This is the logic of seduction and also of exile, recurring themes in Ovid’s work and perhaps inextricably woven into his life story.

In fact, Ovid typically exceeds any of the systems and categorisations that seek to hold him in place for more than a passing moment. He is the most slippery and transformative of poetic creatures. He did not fit in with the official ideology of Augustan society; but the moment we want to run with the rebels we need to be quickly reminded that he poignantly sought and begged to return from the tortures of an enforced exile. Thus it becomes possible to think of Ovid as the exponent of Augustan values and also their most profound critic. These fault lines in the life and times of the poet find many echoes in the after-tremors of his reception. This means that within successive periods it is possible to propose information generalizations then also require various forms of qualification in order to accommodate the underlying variety of Ovid’s poetry. This does not mean that there is not, in a sense, a distinctive voice or mode, that we can call Ovidian. Indeed, he sounds different, and self-consciously wants to be set apart from his predecessors and contemporaries; moreover, this reflection seems to hold no matter how much he draws imitatively and parasitically on their achievements. The Ovidian corpus/opus is as profoundly natural as it is enigmatically artificial.

The Handbook is at its thinnest on the early nineteenth century; the strengths are in the renaissance, restoration and ‘Augustan’ period when the gravitational pull of the Ovidian universe was at its strongest. One of the strengths of these chapters (14 top 25) is that they individual offer the delightful sense of creative cross-fertilizations, critical transformations, and dialogical histories. The open spirit of reception also means that the linear narrative of medieval allegory/ morality, for instance, can be challenged and disrupted, in favour of more nuanced and more inspired readings. The tension between contemporary domestication, proto-feminist liberation, moral censure and aesthetic delight are no where more evident than in various receptions experienced by Ovid throughout the early modern period and the long eighteenth-century.

The fatal triangle of fetishism, voyeurism, and misogyny that presents a challenge to modern readers of ‘enlightened’ writers will inevitably discover those same issues coming up in their reading of the critical literature on Ovid. Classical studies have come a long way since the ‘pioneering’ work of Pomeroy on gender and Foucault on ‘epistemic’ shifts. (See Brooke Holmes, 2012); similarly, the ideological formulations of Ellen Pollak and Laura Brown (on Swift and Pope), perhaps require as much rethinking as the misogynistic simplifications that they were attacking.

The critical problems are present at the source as much as they are in precluded (or prioritised) in the transitions. This collection of essays steers clear of large helpings of theory — whether of the feminist, or post-structuralist approach. That is a potential weakness for the Handbook, in my view, given the attempt to accommodate the solid ground of the early-moderns alongside the shifting sands of the postmodern. I would have liked a chapter on rape and aggression, for instance, considered as both a theme and a narrative, that accommodates both the scholarship and the theories that condemn and that defend Ovid’s approach to such an important issue. My readings of classical scholarship have taught me that the investigation of gender and sexuality by classicists has been both evaded and foregrounded in the last thirty years. The chapter on cinema, at the end of the book, for instance, might have alerted us to the significance of the ‘male gaze’, whether it’s the primary narcissism of culture or the power politics from Lacan to Laura Mulvey. I would also have liked a philosophical chapter on reception that offered a survey of critical issues cropping up in the theoretical field of translation studies; perhaps specifically related to the Ovidian transmission of cultural values. (See Venuti, 2012).

Undoubtedly many readers will, like me, find themselves devouring this volume on the first reading and then coming back for more — perhaps as they did in their younger days, on first discovering the delights of the Metamorphoses. Despite some of my theoretical hankerings this Handbook to the Reception of Ovid is an erudite and magisterial collection of essays that will delight those who already belong to the School of Ovid, and will be a generous introduction and trusted guide for those encountering the great poet’s work for the first time. While readers will also want to consult works by Doody (1985), Hopkins (2010), Oakley-Brown (2006) and Martindale (1988) — among many others, too numerous to list — this new Handbook is highly recommended as a scholarly introduction to the reception of Ovid.

Dr Ian McCormick. Birmingham, UK. 30th October 2014.
[This review was first published on]


Illustrations ix
Notes on Contributors xi
Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction 1
Carole E. Newlands and John F. Miller

1 Ovid s Self–Reception in His Exile Poetry 8
K. Sara Myers

2 Modeling Reception in Metamorphoses: Ovid s Epic Cyclops 22
Andrew Feldherr

3 Ovidian Myths on PompeianWalls 36
Peter E. Knox

4 Ovid in Flavian Occasional Poetry (Martial and Statius) 55
Gianpiero Rosati

5 Poetae Ovidiani: Ovid s Metamorphoses in Imperial Roman Epic 70
Alison Keith

6 Ovid in Apuleius Metamorphoses 86
Stephen Harrison

7 A Poet between TwoWorlds: Ovid in Late Antiquity 100
Ian Fielding

8 Commentary and Collaboration in the Medieval Allegorical Tradition 114
Jamie C. Fumo

9 The Mythographic Tradition after Ovid 129
Gregory Hays

10 Ovid s Exile and Medieval Italian Literature: The Lyric Tradition 144
Catherine Keen

11 Venus s Clerk: Ovid s Amatory Poetry in the Middle Ages 161
Marilynn Desmond

12 The Metamorphosis of Ovid in Dante s Divine Comedy 174
Diskin Clay

13 Ovid in Chaucer and Gower 187
Andrew Galloway

14 Ovid s Metamorphoses and the History of Baroque Art 202
Paul Barolsky

15 The Poetics of Time: The Fasti in the Renaissance 217
Maggie Kilgour

16 Shakespeare and Ovid 232
Sean Keilen

17 Ben Jonson s Light Reading 246
Heather James

18 Love Poems in Sequence: The Amores from Petrarch to Goethe 262
Gordon Braden

19 Don Quixote as Ovidian Text 277
Frederick A. de Armas

20 Spenser and Ovid 291
Philip Hardie

21 Ovidian Intertextuality in Ariosto s Orlando Furioso 306
Sergio Casali

22 Joy and Harmles Pastime : Milton and the Ovidian Arts of Leisure 324
Mandy Green

23 Ovid Translated: Early Modern Versions of the Metamorphoses 339
Dan Hooley

24 Ovid in Restoration and Eighteenth–Century England 355
James M. Horowitz

25 The Influence of Ovid in Opera 371
Jon Solomon

26 Ovid in Germany 386
Theodore Ziolkowski

27 Ovid and Russia s Poets of Exile 401
Andrew Kahn

28 Alter–Ovid Contemporary Art on the Hyphen 416
Jill H. Casid

29 Contemporary Poetry: After After Ovid 436
Sarah Annes Brown

30 Ovid s Biography : Novels of Ovid s Exile 454
Rainer Godel

31 Ovid and the Cinema: An Introduction 469
Martin M.Winkler

Index 485


Doody, M.A. (1985). The Daring Muse: Augustan Poetry Reconsidered.

Fowler, Don. (1994). ‘Postmodernism, Romantic Irony, and Classical Closure.’ Modern Critical Theory and Classical Literature,  edited by Irene J. F. De Jong, J. John Patrick Sullivan. 231-256.

Holmes, Brooke. (2112). Gender: Antiquity and Its Legacy.

Hopkins, D. (2010). Conversing with Antiquity: English Poets and the Classics, from Shakespeare to Pope. (Classical Presences).

Martindale, C. (ed) (1988). Ovid Renewed: Ovidian Influences on Literature and Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century.

Mulvey, Laura. (1975). ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’ Screen 16 (3): 6–18.

Oakley-Brown, L. (2006). Ovid and the Cultural Politics of Translation in Early Modern England.  (Studies in European Cultural Transition)

Pomeroy, S. B. (1975). Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity.

Venuti, L. (Ed.). (2012). The Translation Studies Reader.

Dr Ian McCormick. Birmingham, UK. 30th October 2014.


John F. Miller is the Arthur F. and Marian W. Stocker Professor of Classics and Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of Virginia. His publications include Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets (2009) and Ovid’s Elegiac Festivals: Studies in the Fasti (1991).

Carole Newlands is Professor of Classics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her publications include Statius: Poet between Rome and Naples (2012); Statius, Siluae 2, A Commentary (2011); Statius’ Siluae and the Poetics of Empire (2002); Playing with Time: Ovid and the Fasti (1995).

A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid presents more than 30 original essays written by leading scholars revealing the rich diversity of critical engagement with Ovid’s poetry that spans the Western tradition from antiquity to the present day.

  • Offers innovative perspectives on Ovid’s poetry and its reception from antiquity to the present day
  • Features contributions from more than 30 leading scholars in the Humanities.
  • Introduces familiar and unfamiliar figures in the history of Ovidian reception.
  • Demonstrates the enduring and transformative power of Ovid’s poetry into modern times.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Tragedy: Selected Quotations

National Theatre: Othello

Tragedy is like strong acid -- it dissolves away all but the very gold of truth.
D. H. Lawrence

'the story depicts also the troubled part of the hero's life which precedes and leads up to his death; and an instantaneous death occurring by 'accident' in the midst of prosperity would not suffice for it. It is, in fact, essentially a tale of suffering and calamity conducting to death.' A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

Pathos truly is the mode for the pessimist. But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. And it is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief-optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man.
Arthur Miller, Tragedy and the Common Man

Tragedies are always discussed as if they took place in a void, but actually each tragedy is conditioned by its setting, local and global. The events of 11 September 2001 are not exception.
Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms

Farce may often border on tragedy; indeed, farce is nearer tragedy in its essence than comedy is.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 20 August 1833.

The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.
Václav Havel, Letters to Olga (1988)
'The suffering and calamity are, moreover, exceptional. They befall a conspicuous person. They are themselves of some striking kind. They are also, as a rule, unexpected, and contrasted with previous happiness or glory. A tale, for example, of a man slowly worn to death by disease, poverty, little cares, sordid vices, petty persecutions, however piteous or dreadful it might be, would not be tragic in the Shakespearean sense.'
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.
Oscar Wilde

Tragedy speaks not of secular dilemmas which may be resolved by rational innovation, but of the unalterable bias toward inhumanity and destruction in the drift of the world.
George Steiner

A comedy is just a tragedy interrupted, I once said. Do you finish with the kiss or when she opens her eyes to tell him she loves him and sees blonde hairs on his collar? 
Alan Ayckbourn, A Crash Course in Playwriting (1993)

When any calamity has been suffered, the first thing to be remembered is how much has been escaped.
Samuel Johnson

That there should one Man die ignorant who had capacity for Knowledge, this I call a tragedy.
Thomas Carlyle

Such exceptional suffering and calamity, then, affecting the hero, and—we must now add—generally extending far and wide beyond him, so as to make the whole scene a scene of woe, are an essential ingredient in tragedy and a chief source of the tragic emotions, and especially of pity. But the proportions of this ingredient, and the direction taken by tragic pity, will naturally vary greatly.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

A tragedy can never suffer by delay: a comedy may, because the allusions or the manners represented in it maybe temporary.
Horace Walpole, Letter To Robert Jephson

The true end of tragedy is to purify the passions.

The calamities of tragedy do not simply happen, nor are they sent; they proceed mainly from actions, and those the actions of men.We see a number of human beings placed in certain circumstances; and we see, arising from the co-operation of their characters in these circumstances, certain actions. These actions beget others, and these others beget others again, until this series of inter-connected deeds leads by an apparently inevitable sequence to a catastrophe. 
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

Love is blind, as they say, and because love is blind, it often leads to tragedy: to conflicts in which one love is pitted against another love, and something has to give, with suffering guaranteed in any resolution.
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (2006)

In this world there are two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst.
Oscar Wilde

A total reverse of fortune, coming unawares upon a man who 'stood in high degree,' happy and apparently secure,—such was the tragic fact to the mediaeval mind. It appealed strongly to common human sympathy and pity; it startled also another feeling, that of fear. It frightened men and awed them. It made them feel that man is blind and helpless, the plaything of an inscrutable power, called by the name of Fortune or some other name,—a power which appears to smile on him for a little, and then on a sudden strikes him down in his pride.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.
George Orwell

The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism.
Arthur Miller

The real tragedy of England as I see it, is the tragedy of ugliness. The country is so lovely: the man-made England is so vile.
D.H. Lawrence, Nottingham and the Mining Countryside, 1936.

You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

We participate in tragedy. At comedy we only look.
Aldous Huxley

The tragedy of love is indifference.
W. Somerset Maugham, The Trembling of a Leaf
The centre of the tragedy, therefore, may be said with equal truth to lie in action issuing from character, or in character issuing in action.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

Tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain.
Percy Bysshe Shelley

The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.
Tom Stoppard

There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it.
George Bernard Shaw

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
Charlie Chaplin
If we are to include the outer and the inner struggle in a conception more definite than that of conflict in general, we must employ some such phrase as 'spiritual force.' This will mean whatever forces act in the human spirit, whether good or evil, whether personal passion or impersonal principle; doubts, desires, scruples, ideas—whatever can animate, shake, possess, and drive a man's soul. [19]In a Shakespearean tragedy some such forces are shown in conflict.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

The little word is has its tragedies: it marries and identifies different things with the greatest innocence; and yet no two are ever identical, and if therein lies the charm of wedding them and calling them one, therein too lies the danger.
George Santayana

It is restful, tragedy, because one knows that there is no more lousy hope left. You know you're caught, caught at last like a rat with all the world on its back. And the only thing left to do is shout -- not moan, or complain, but yell out at the top of your voice whatever it was you had to say. What you've never said before. What perhaps you don't even know till now.
Jean Anouilh

The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism.
Arthur Miller, Collected Plays (1958)

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.
D. H. Lawrence

Tragedy springs from outrage; it protests at the conditions of life. It carries in it the possibilities of disorder, for all tragic poets have something of the rebelliousness of Antigone. Goethe, on the contrary, loathed disorder. He once said that he preferred injustice, signifying by that cruel assertion not his support for reactionary political ideals, but his conviction that injustice is temporary and reparable whereas disorder destroys the very possibilities of human progress. Again, this is an anti-tragic view; in tragedy it is the individual instance of injustice that informs the general pretence of order. One Hamlet is enough to convict a state of rottenness.
George Steiner

The great tragedy of Science the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. 
Thomas Henry Huxley, Presidential Address at the British Association (1870)

Kozintsev - Shakespeare - Hamlet

Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people.
Angela Carter, Wise Children (1991)

Laughter is the climax in the tragedy of seeing, hearing and smelling self-consciously. Wyndham Lewis, Inferior Religions  (1917)

It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time-the heart and spirit of the average man.
Arthur Miller, Tragedy and the Common Man
Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness. Comedy and tragedy step through life together, arm in arm, all along, out along, down along lea. A laugh is a great natural stimulator, a pushful entry into life; and once we can laugh, we can live. It is the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.
Seán O'casey, The Green Crow (1956)

None but a poet can write a tragedy. For tragedy is nothing less than pain transmuted into exaltation by the alchemy of poetry.
Edith Hamilton

Envy is a horrible thing. It is unlike all other kinds of suffering in that there is no disguising it, no elevating it into tragedy. It is more than merely painful, it is disgusting.
George Orwell, Burmese Days (1934)

Tragedy obviously does not lie in a conflict of Right and Wrong, but in a collision between two different kinds of Right
Peter Shaffer, Equus (1973)

Here is tragedy and here is America. For the curse of the country, as well of all democracies, is precisely the fact that it treats its best men as enemies. The aim of our society, if it may be said to have an aim, is to iron them out. The ideal American, in the public sense, is a respectable vacuum.
H. L. Mencken, More Tips for Novelists, Chicago Tribune (2 May 1926)

What would be left of our tragedies if an insect were to present us his?
Emil Cioran

Marston is a writer of great merit, who rose to tragedy from the ground of comedy, and whose forte was not sympathy, either with the stronger or softer emotions, but an impatient scorn and bitter indignation against the vices and follies of men, which vented itself either in comic irony or in lofty invective. He was properly a satirist.
William Hazlitt, Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1820)

This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.
Horace Walpole

And everywhere we see them perishing, devouring one another and destroying themselves, often with dreadful pain, as though they came into being for no other end. Tragedy is the typical form of this mystery, because that greatness of soul which it exhibits oppressed, conflicting and destroyed, is the highest existence in our view. It forces the mystery upon us, and it makes us realise so vividly the worth of that which is wasted that we cannot possibly seek comfort in the reflection that all is vanity.
A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy

We are all such accidents. We do not make up history and culture. We simply appear, not by our own choice. We make what we can of our condition with the means available. We must accept the mixture as we find it — the impurity of it, the tragedy of it, the hope of it.
Saul Bellow, Great Jewish Short Stories

Greek tragedy met her death in a different way from all the older sister arts: she died tragically by her own hand, after irresolvable conflicts, while the others died happy and peaceful at an advanced age. If a painless death, leaving behind beautiful progeny, is the sign of a happy natural state, then the endings of the other arts show us the example of just such a happy natural state: they sink slowly, and with their dying eyes they behold their fairer offspring, who lift up their heads in bold impatience. The death of Greek tragedy, on the other hand, left a great void whose effects were felt profoundly, far and wide; as once Greek sailors in Tiberius' time heard the distressing cry 'the god Pan is dead' issuing from a lonely island, now, throughout the Hellenic world, this cry resounded like an agonized lament: 'Tragedy is dead! Poetry itself died with it! Away, away with you, puny, stunted imitators! Away with you to Hades, and eat your fill of the old masters' crumbs!'
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (1872)

Ophelia - Shakespeare's Hamlet

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Intro Shakespearean Tragedy

The publication of a new edition of Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy (1904) presents a timely opportunity to explore a classic expression of the theory and practice of tragic drama. This is also an opportunity for new readers to encounter a distinctive appreciation of Shakespeare’s work in the context of more recent literary and cultural theories. In the process, the obstacles to a clear understanding of what Bradley thought are explored, and we seek to explain why many critics were often hostile to his writings on Shakespeare. We then proceed to an interrogation of Bradley’s philosophy of tragedy in the context the wider project of the development of English Studies as an educational discipline since the end of the nineteenth century. This frame of analysis will also be informed by recent post-colonial theories which will be positioned within the context of literary study understood as a distinctive project of enlightened humane education. [...] One of the predicaments for Bradley, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century is how to accommodate a true representation of Shakespearean tragedy that responds to the ideology of the nineteenth century. He is writing in the context of the British imperial project and mass industrialisation, but ten years before the cataclysmic events of the First World War (1914-18). In this regard, the virtual absence of any historical particularities is a noteworthy silence in the text. One criticism might be that the romantic timelessness of Shakespeare seeks to naturalize a world order that is already showing signs of political if not ideological crisis. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Restricting the Quantity of Citations

Nowadays, so much academic writing is simply a rehash of other people's work. Textbooks, in particular, are prone to the vice of uncritical recycling.

Clearly, however, there is a virtue in building on the work of others. Work in the humanities has become very specialised (since the 1970s) and this means that we are standing on the shoulders of an army of scholars, not to mention the proverbial giants and geniuses of the past.

Nonetheless, excessive use of citation suggests perhaps a lack of confidence in your own thought and creativity. A literature review may be the starting point of a research project, but it is not the final destination.

I was led to these rather banal reflections having recently picked up a copy of John Russell Brown's engaging and thoughtful book: Shakespeare: The Tragedies (2001). This book has four citations, two of which refer to the work of Peter Clark, The English Alehouse: A Social History 1200-1830. (1983)

Now that's perhaps the limit to downsize your references: citation lite !

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... also available on Kindle, or to downloadA bargain!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Writing about ‘represented speech’ in Shakespeare

In the exam you are typically provided with a short extract from one of Shakespeare plays. This blog provides a checklist of the key points that you will need to write about. This exercise is an opportunity to show off your understanding and your critical vocabulary, and to demonstrate your awareness of how literary and rhetorical techniques contribute to effective dramatic writing.

Finding your bearings

Keywords: conflict, drama, character, theme

Who are the main protagonists, and who are the subsidiary speakers? Which characters prompt or lead the discussion? Who dominates?

Think about

the context for the action,
the sense of conflict or rapport and dramatic situation
how the extract helps to develop a character/psychology/motivation/emotion
... or to advance a theme.

Think about what has happened before, and what will happen after the selected scene/extract

Is there an emotional high point or specific dramatic moments that have more emphasis than others? Identify precisely where these happen in the extract, and think about how they are achieved.

Are there transitions between different emotions? (Anger, Greed, Confused, Joy, Fear, Surprise, Sadness, Hate, Desire, Hope, Dejection, Love, Wonder, Irritation, Pride, Disappointment, Happiness, Embarrassed, Anxiety, Jealous, Glee)

Are the speakers balanced in equal exchanges? Are they engaged in verbal combat, or witty wordplay (puns/innuendo/logical games)

Is there a power difference between speakers (age/class/gender/situation)

Check for dramatic irony in relation to characters and the audience.

Speaking Voices

Shakespeare’s plays are not a transcript of conversational speech, but they may employ colloquial elements and slang, sexual jokes, rudeness and less formal, less poetic speech rhythms. Sometimes he employs prose, or irregular verse. You should comment on these aspects of the extract.

Sounds - Beat and Rhythm

The usual pattern is iambic pentameter – a 10 syllable line, five feet, with alternating unstressed (-) and stressed (/) beats ( -  / )


Shakespeare tends to employ unrhymed verse, but sometime the final two lines of a scene are a rhyming couplet. This provides a more emphatic closure.


How does Shakespeare vary the pace? Look for shifts in rhythm and timing, and don’t just pause at the end of very line. Shakespeare’s verse is very flexible, and presents many cues for actors, as well as opportunities for variations in volume, pitch and pace.

Look out for short, transactional exchanges, and phatics (polite introductions/ salutations), interruptions, overlapping

Contrast these to more rhetorical speeches that outline and develop thoughts and feelings, often using longer more complex sentence structures.

Look for evidence of rhetorical techniques (such as repetition, tripling, parallelism, listing, pronoun shifts [ I/we/you/they/he/she/it ], contrast and antithesis)

and figurative language (simile/ metaphor/ personification/ pathetic fallacy)

Pitch and Volume

Is there a sense of rising or falling (e.g. louder/quieter)
Dramatic elements: e.g. trumpets announce a character ... or whispering ...

Compare and contrast public speeches, court and noisy crowd/street scenes to ...
smaller, more intimate gatherings (a bedroom scene), a private monologue (soliloquy), or an ‘aside’

Renaissance and Rhetoric

Because renaissance writers were trained in the classical rhetoric you will find many of the literary devices and rhetorical techniques which are frequent in formal public speeches.

This artificial formality (prepared speech) many contribute to a sense of linguistic performance and dexterity (verbal skills). Polished and eloquent speech was the sign of an educated gentleman or a courtier.

The deployment of rhetoric provides a sense of wit, intelligence and refinement, but it was also used to present deeper thoughts and feelings of the character.

Language and style should be related to issues of power, but remember that Shakespeare can be quite effective and dramatic in the way that he satirises and mocks the powerful, and the way that he gives a voice to women, the poor, and the outsider.

Shakespeare’s audience delighted in the playfulness, mobility and resourcefulness of language.

Rather than just identifying and naming a rhetorical or literary technique explain how it functions to produce emphasis, more vivid pictures or imagery, or amplifies, deepens and develops an idea. Evaluate its impact and effectiveness.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)