chapter  5
33 Pages

Fortune’s fools: revolutions of time, fate and sovereignty


In contrast to the category of anagnorisis, the Aristotelian concept of a tragic peripeteia or fall has received surprisingly little attention, above all in its implications for the relationship of the tragic protagonist to time. Yet it is both perplexing and suggestive that Aristotle defined the tragic crisis as a fall or change which is not a decline from a great height, but is rather a turning about or around, from peri-pipto. Moreover, its Greek etymology further suggests that this fall may have hidden erotic connotations, since peri-pipto could also mean ‘to embrace’. I will show in this chapter that Shakespeare’s tragedies configure the moment of tragic peripeteia or fall as a circling backwards in time that often has a potent erotic dimension, and which can further imply a suggestive deviation from conventional masculine identity. This turning backwards has a clear affinity with the Platonic concept of epistrophe or ‘reversion’, in which the Many return to the One; however, the Shakespearean and tragic version of return is typically inflected as a return to a material and earthly origin.2