Greek Tragedy and Spanish Golden Age Theatre: Reading the tragic genre.
Violeta Varela Alvarez.
The definition of the tragic genre
The thesis that holds all this paper is the one that considers the tragic genre as a perfectly defined literary fact from its start, with Pisistratus in the
thee Sixth century, until its more recent occurrences. But which are these
essentials patterns that conforms the tragic genre? The most fundamental is
that tragedy always has focused on a political conflict, a dialectical
conflict. Although in the history of the genre we can observe differences that
refers to the implications of the tragic event (the emergence of subjectivity)
and to the subjects who experience it (the violation of the Aristotelian
principle of decorum), all of this differences, that we can already realize in
the works of Euripides, the tragic fact presents always as its main idea the
political conflict expressed through a dialectical way. Even the tragedy will
experience an evolution through the different historical periods and so many
different literatures, should not avoid us to capture the essence of it. As
well held Plato: "[...] in terms of the philosopher, to escape from the
scope of the genesis, must capture the essence, without which will never become
a good calculator"(Plato, Republic VII, 525b).
According to the Platonic advice, I'm going to capture the essence of the tragic genre by what refers to the ancient Greek tragedy: the essence of the tragedy lies in the dramatization of the dialectical conflicts arising in the heart of the political structure. This essential characteristic can be traced in numerous manifestations of the genre throughout the entire world literature, and, of course, when this essential nucleus fades away, the course of the tragedy becomes a new phenomenon and gives birth to a new Idea and, consequently, a new essence and a new genesis. In the case of the tragedy, I consider that when the extinction of the political dialectic takes place, we are attending to the beginning of a new literary genre: the drama (Federico Garcia Lorca is a perfect author to study this evolution). When politics disappears, emerges the dramatic literature. I understand Politics not as a scientific concept or as a philosophical idea, but as a conceptual net that articulates the relationship between the Ideas of ethics, morality, religion, law, citizenship, social classes or strata, etc. The different kind of conflict that involves all these Ideas is the basis of the political dialectics. Dialectics is the philosophical methodology of treatment of the Ideas: “without making use for anything of the sensitive thing, but of Ideas, across (through) Ideas and in direction of Ideas, up to concluding in Ideas” (Plato, Republic, VI, 511 b-c).
Dialectics requires an architectural of reason, as Kant would say, a system that allows us to identify which Ideas are related with another, conforming the philosophical net in which Dialectics can be performed. The tragic dialectics have their basis in the system of ideas that conforms the political structure. Obviously, the conceptual network that configures the political structure of a particular society changes with the course of history, but the presence of the essence, the dialectical conflicts that arise within the political structure, is the fundamental reason for the identification of the tragedy as literary genre. The tragedy is not about the man in the abstract, concerns to the man as a member of a political community. The tragic fact focuses in experiences that have a strong impact in different areas of human life, but always with Politics as an element of mediation. When the tragic subject is not the citizen but a man that only belongs to him, beside condition, morals, law or history, then we are facing the emergence of the dramatic subject.
Before going further, It’s important to point out the concepts of Ethics, Moral and Law that I am going to manage in this paper. I'll use three authors: Hegel (1997), Spinoza (1994) and Bueno (1996a).
Moral could perfectly fit in the Hegelian concept of the underground law or law of the shadows: the blood and the family. The divine law whose duties are these that involve the philia: the affection between parents and children or between brothers and sisters, joined by flesh and blood identity. Is named the law of the heart: every family member is unique on the heart of the others.
On the other side, the Hegelian concept of human law refers to the rules of the civil community, the Right that governs the town and the city. It always transcends the particular view, world or experience of each citizen. Citizens, for the politicians, are replaceable, exchangeable. The right is the moral linked to the State and its laws. With these categories Hegel takes on Greek tragedies: everyone is, at the same time, member of a family and citizen, and must, at the same time, follow the rules of the penates and obey the nomoi of the city, but this is not always possible. Sometimes you have to choose between the family and the polis, between burying a brother or acting according to law.
I agree with the Hegelian concepts of divine and human law but its necessary to add one concept more to the Hegelian net: the Ethics. I argue that Hegelian philosophy forgot the ethics. His two categories could serve, not without problems, to analyse the tragic conflict in the ancient Greek, but they do not allow reaching the core of the Greek mentality, in one side and, in another side, regarding to non-Greek tragedies, would be impossible to deal with plays such as the lorquian ones, in example, in which ethics, as it will be considered in this work, becomes absolutely essential to understand the universe of the writer.
At last, I'll understand ethics in the sense in which was exposed by Spinoza in proposition 58 and 59 of the third part of his Ethics: basically, the ethical virtues derived from the strength of being alive and the generosity of looking after the others for the only reason of their humanity. Ethics rules the world through the principle of self-care and friendship. Ethics attends to the real and corporeal existence of the human being and are completely universal.
Morals and law often require the sacrifice of ethics: Antigona does not act ethically, but morally (sacrifices her life for burying her beloved brother according to the divine law). Morals and Ethics are in permanent dialectic and conflict, and here is where the third element interferes: the State (controller and founder of a moral code, embodied in the law). The State is supposed to solve the conflicts between Ethics and morals, but this leads into new conflicts.
From his first appearance as a literary phenomenon in
can be distinguished, according to the specified terms, two main directions in
the tragic genre:
1) Tragedy as a reflection of legal and political kind. It would be the line opened by Aeschylus and continued by Euripides, leading to a political theatre in the strict sense. The tragedy, in this first species, would serve to the education of citizenship and to the discussion on the law to move the State and the Right toward a greater refinement.
2) Tragedy as an expression of the ethical and moral orders against politics. This second line, inaugurated by Sophocles, is a conception of tragedy that seems to focus first on a moral and ethical level, rather than the political or legal one. Politics are still the main Idea in such tragedies, but in a negative way: to undermine the political principles in order to privilege the ethical and moral precepts, i.e. the vindication of the religious laws over the political ones, the pretension of the old fashion rules taking over the political space. Sophoclean tragedies are the perfect samples. The tragic genre, which was born with the Greek tyranny and that reached its climax in the democratic times, is now used to deny, undermine and discredit the political organization. Thus, the allies become enemies.
While the first species is characterized by its political realism - shows unpleasant aspects derived from the political articulation of society but does not lead into antisocial, romantic or nihilist utopias-, the second species lead directly towards drama, displacing the essence from the network of political ideas that served as axis to the tragic plot, to the psychological impact that the socio-political network causes on the tragic subject. When only the individuals and their passions, emotions and feelings remain, then the drama overshadows the tragedy (is what happens in some contemporary plays as the lorquian ones).
In order to analyse Lope and Calderon plays it will be important to pay special attention to the political motives involve in their works. I will face, therefore, in this work, other conceptions of the tragic genre handle by the scholars that follow different criteria:
1. Those who argue that the tragedy of the Spanish Seventieth Century must be considerate by reference to the comedy: coincidence in the dramatic schemes and opposite in the development of the plot (Ynduráin, 1987: 144).
2 Those who argue that the Spanish Golden Age tragedy presents the following features: 1) historicity or not fictitious argument, 2) ending with death or fatal event, 3) gravity
(4) high characters (Morby, 1943).
These two definitions are made by the only consideration of Spanish plays, isolating these ones from the rest of the tradition of the history of the tragic literature. I simply want to provide another point of view that allows considering Calderón and Lope according to the history of the tragic genre from its Greek origins, with issues of comparative literature and classical tradition. While Calderon seems to establish a mess between tragedy and comedy that force the disappearing of the tragic fact, even keeping the political reasons, Lope seems to focus the conflict on feelings and passions, developing an exemplary drama in which the political elements have completely disappeared as the engine for the action. Let’s see it in more detail.
To be continued...