Every generation develops its own approach to tragedy, attitudes successively influenced by such classic works as A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy and the studies in interpretation by G. Wilson Knight. A comprehensive new book on the subject by an author of the same calibre was long overdue.
In his book, originally published in 1981, John Bayley discusses the Roman plays, Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens as well as the four major tragedies. He shows how Shakespeare’s most successful tragic effects hinge on an opposition between the discourses of character and form, role and context. For example, in Lear the dramatis personae act in the dramatic world of tragedy which demands universality and high rhetoric of them. Yet they are human and have their being in the prosaic world of domesticity and plain speaking. The inevitable intrusion of the human world into the world of tragedy creates the play’s powerful off-key effects. Similarly, the existential crisis in Macbeth can be understood in terms of the tension between accomplished action and the free-ranging domain of consciousness.
What is the relation between being and acting? How does an audience become intimate with a protagonist who is alienated from his own play? What did Shakespeare add to the form and traditions of tragedy? Do his masterpieces in the genre disturb and transform it in unexpected ways? These are the issues raised by this lucid and imaginative study. Professor Bayley’s highly original rethinking of the problems will be a challenge to the Shakespearean scholar as well as an illumination to the general reader.
Table of Contents
Introductory. 1. The King’s Ship 2. The Natures of Death 3. The Big Idea Timon of Athens 4. Longing and Homesickness Troilus and Cressida 5. Determined Things the Case of the Caesars 6. The Thing I Am Coriolanus 7. Tragedy and Consciousness. Annotated Bibliography.