Emotion and meaning in the theatre
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Emotion and meaning in the theatre book
Rather than put together an interpretation of each of the nine plays, I shall attempt, by way of synopsis, to characterize what kind of effect Greek tragedy has-used to have, may have-on a member of the audience. I have tried to bring out a view of each play as I went along and I can only ask anyone who wishes to concentrate on one in particular to go through the chapters accordingly. What still needs to be brought out is the feel of the dramatic experience, the way that tragedy works on its audience. This attempt calls for a basic consideration of the nature of the art-form, and some of the most familiar doctrines about it will have to be cleared from the air. The life-breath of Greek tragedy often seems stifled by antiquarian patronizing and by text-book clichés, clichés which I find trotted out in the programme-notes to almost every modern production. My working assumption throughout has been that the tragedians were free in their use of theatrical techniques, that they chose to convey their meaning by certain actions and sequences of action rather than others, and that this artistic choice directs us to their purpose. But most critics have written not of freedom but of constraints, limitations, rules. In some ways Aristotle’s Poetics sets the example for this approach, though at least Aristotle was being prescriptive, not descriptive. But in his wake more petty and more authoritarian critics have so extended and rigidly codified the ‘rules’ of Greek tragedy as to obscure and even deny its lively freedom. Overgeneralizations and simplifications have become common text-book doctrine; and instead of illuminating tragedy these clichés have mortified and alienated it. Some will have to be cleared out of the way in order both to justify the claims of this book and to approach finally the experience of the audience of a Greek tragedy. This negative progress will, I hope, constantly be bringing our positive goal nearer.