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REVIEWS Michelle Gellrich. Tragedy and Theory: The Problem of Conflict Since Aristotle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988. Pp. xiv + 293. $29.50. If one were asked to name the essential components of Greek tragedy , surely almost anyone would include conflict as, if not the essential feature, at least a major one. In fact, there is probably not a single human being walking the planet who would agree with Aristotle that "spectacle" and "music" (fifth and sixth on his list of essential features of tragedy) are more important than "conflict" (which he excluded). How did the learned Stagirite make such a glaring omission? Why did he repeatedly dodge any opportunity to explore or even mention what is to us so obviously the central feature of tragedy? Furthermore, why did virtually every Renaissance or neoclassical critic before Hegel fail to see the significance of "conflict" to tragedy? It has long been established that Aristotle excluded certain key features of dramatic form from his purview. In fact, it has become so obvious that it can be at once both taken for granted and conveniently forgotten. Just as neoclassical critics "borrowed" a great deal from Aristotle that was at best only implied, modern critics seek not to be outdone by their predecessors. Since Aristotle is silent on the question of conflict in tragedy, critics compensate by intoning Greek words like agon or eris to add a classical-sounding authority to their theories. As critics sling around the "key terms" of Greek tragedy like hamartia, hybris, and "tragic hero," few bother to point out that most of them are never used a single time in the Poetics. (Hamartia is used once.) The lacunae and anomalies of the Poetics are so marked that a major sub-category of Aristotelian criticism has been created to explain away the omissions. Some suggest that large portions of the complete work have been lost, others that the Poetics is little more than lecture notes hastily scribbled by a student. Others find sinister political forces at work since Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander, had sided with the pro-Macedonian faction, a stance which apparently led to his exile from Athens. Still others claim, correctly I believe, that a major purpose of the Poetics was to defend drama against the charges levelled by Plato. Thus, Aristotle carefully composed his "definitions" and theories of drama to refute Plato on the purposes and central premises of dramatic form, steering clear of more problematic areas and whenever possible shifting the discussion onto less hostile terrain. Aristotle saw that to control the vocabulary was to win the debate. Michelle Gellrich has decided systematically to study these "exclusions ," not in order to explain them away, but to get closer to what Aristotle meant. Critical theory and notions of dramatic form are part of a larger social-cultural discourse. Since both dramatic form and dramatic theory serve social functions as well as literary ones, an examination of 179 180Comparative Drama these less overt purposes can be as valuable as the traditional examination of the more explicit ones. For Gellrich, what is not said is as important as what is said. A significant function of criticism in certain cultural circumstances can be the social legitimization of a text or a body of texts. Interestingly, from Aristotle through the eighteenth century, the history of dramatic criticism is largely one continued apologia or defense designed, in GeIlrich 's words, "to neutralize moral outrage by accommodating tragedy to structures that are institutionally acceptable." Gellrich's Tragedy and Theory is an eye-opening exploration not only of the history of conflict in dramatic theory but also of the relationship of the dramatic critic and theories of tragedy to the plays themselves . Centering on two seminal figures in the history of dramatic criticism, Aristotle and Hegel, she examines their theories with insight and clarity, also treating a number of Renaissance, neoclassical, and early Romantic theorists. She analyzes several plays in great detail while critiquing the theorists' critiques of the plays. Gellrich's often brilliant study ultimately illuminates the nature and limitations of criticism itself. According to Gellrich, modern dramatic criticism owes its genesis to Hegel. Tragedy and Theory includes a refreshing analysis of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 179-181
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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