Affective Interests: Ancient Tragedy, Shakespeare and the Concept of Character

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Contemporary narratives about the tragic genre invariably make the point that it is impossible to evaluate whether an individual text merits designation as a tragedy without an explicit discussion of the grounds for that designation. This applies as much to texts from ancient Greece as to later works, since arguments about what constitutes a tragedy go back at least as far as the fifth century BCE, arguably to the re-workings of Aeschylus by Sophocles and Euripides, and certainly to the antics of Dionysus in Aristophanes’ Frogs. Provocative new versions of well-known myths and the satirical treatment of style and content thus form part of the earliest responses to tragedy and demonstrate the inseparability of creative and critical practice when it comes to evaluating its quality. Add to this the embryonic literary critical formulations of Aristotle a century later and their hugely influential reception and it becomes clear that the parameters of future debates about effective tragic drama are already in place: analyses of the development, mutation and decline of the genre will circulate around the relative merits of the three great tragedians in terms, especially, of plot and character and the emotional impact on audiences. And the two poles in relation to which broad sweep accounts of ‘the tragic’ will be routinely plotted are the dramatic productions of Classical Greece and Elizabethan England, with occasional detours via 17th Century France. None of this needs much rehearsing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-78
Number of pages26
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017

Structured keywords

  • Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition


  • Tragedy
  • Character
  • Affect
  • Reception


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