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This review is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

AN ELEGY FOR TRAGEDY FELICITY ROSSLYN, Tragic Plots: A New Reading from Aeschylus to Lorca, Studies in European Cultural Transition, Volume 9 (Ashgate) £45

What is tragedy? Why does tragedy emerge at certain times and not at others? Is tragedy dead today? These are the key questions of the debate about tragedy that preoccupied the last century - the twentieth century - and which found its most spectacular expression in George Steiner's The Death of Tragedy (1961). As the twentieth century turns into the twenty-first, Felicity Rosslyn enters the debate with a wide-ranging, quietly erudite, and deeply-felt book that moves from substantial discussions of Greek and Renaissance tragedy to accounts of Ibsen, Strindberg, Lorca, Eliot, Yeats, Synge, O'Neill, Miller and Chekhov. In the course of a series of illuminating and wellinformed studies of specific plays, she offers a theory of tragedy, an outline of its enabling conditions, and an instance of its possible survival in the earlier twentieth century.

Rosslyn's theory of tragedy inclines more towards the psychological than the political, which makes it slightly out of step with the politicised march of modern academic criticism, even if that lockstep is now losing momentum. But politics and the polis are not absent. She identifies 'the central problem of tragedy' - as 'the problem of individuation' - the struggle, primarily against parents, but also against (certain aspects of) society, to become an individual, a struggle which brings with it what Rosslyn compellingly calls, 'the shock of finding oneself alone, with an Apollonian consciousness registering every psychological tremor, and yet entangled in a past of someone else's creation'. The obvious objection to this ...


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