Shivakantjha.org - Concepts of Man as Revealed in Tragedy
Concepts of Man as Revealed
By Shiva Kant Jha
Tragedy is profoundly cognitive and greatly aesthetic. It is,
perhaps, the most serious exploration of the essence of existence in its numberless
contexts. It gives us the comprehension of the mysterious surges of the Becoming;
thereby also of the genesis and dimension of the human values of the Being.
A tragic artist is per se a thinker; for his concern is the deepest of the values.
Tragic cognition is empirical in the sense that it is got through the scanning
of the meaning of the events in a tragic universe. A tragic artist reveals MAN
under the aspect of truth and also under the aspect of beauty. "Tragedy
is still the form under which the mind may most clearly and freely contemplate
the human situation, its issues unclouded, its possibilities revealed.1
In the present paper an attempt is being made to analyse the
image of man as revealed in tragic literature. The characteristics of "the
universal man" and his intrinsic values are beyond the range of this paper:
the intention is to outline the history of man who is subject to the alteration
wrought by time and space. Man is no entity: he does not exist as X,Y.........Z
do. Man is a concept: the universal Man is an all-inclusive concept; periodic
man reveals a certain configuration of characteristics which is an outcome of
the exclusion of certain sets of characteristics and values. Each phase of human
history has its specific Zeit-geist. "The thoughts and action
of men tend to be governed, or at least influenced by some set of general ideas
about the nature of the world and men's place in it. A set of general ideas
of this sort may be called a world-picture or Weltanschauung."2 A work of art may be an expression of "reality",
or it may be a "mask"3 but it is always influenced by the contemporary Weltanschauung.
The artist "is the point at which the growth of the mind
shows itself"4 "He is, as it were, at the most conscious point of the
race in his time."5
W. T. Stace 6 stresses on "mediaeval" and "modern" world
pictures. On the basis of tragic literature it seems to me more correct to think
of three world-pictures - ancient, mediaeval and modern. Each period has its
own concept of human values, though each period has its dissenters.
Any account of the tragic exploration of human values would
naturally have to begin with the great tragic poets of the Hellenic world--viz.
Aeschylus (526-456 B.C.), Sophocles (c 496-406 B.C.), and Euripides (480-406
The Hellenic World had a profound sense of dynamic "moral
order" (themis). Man's duty was to be obedient to this Order: disobedience
to it inevitably incurred 'divine ire' (cf. the concept of diké). The
ordering principle of the universe (directed by Zeus) was conceived as restoring
order in the universe by subjecting the defiant to suffering.7
Zeus, who prepared for men
The path of wisdom, binding fast
Learning to suffering.
The operation of the dike never shows man as a frail creature
easily destroyed under the catherine wheel of Fate. The process of the wreck
of the "aspiration" of a tragic hero while struggling with the "Necessity
without" is also the process of the manifestation of his glories. Even
when Fate is overwhelming a tragic protagonist resorts to the ultima ratio
of waging war on Fate. The spectacle of a heroic soul suffering greatly is a
characteristic mode of the revelation of the infinite potentialities of man.
He breaks and thereby reveals two things:
(a) his acceptance of the Order of Light
(b) his assertion that he is not a frail creature but one who can know the meaning
of a glorious existence in the universe of storm and stress.
A Greek tragedy never depresses. When Claudel called Euripides
"the Greek Baudelaire" he referred to a vital point. Euripides explored
the dignity of man even in the fortuitous universe. He could say (in the words
of T. S. Eliot):
"It is true to say that the glory of man is his capacity
it is also true to say that his glory is his capacity for damnation."8
Aeschylus shows in his plays the triumph of equity but the
triumph of equity is the result of the infinite capacity for cognition that
his tragic characters have. The elemental grandeur of his tragic protagonists
is the quintessential expression of the ethos of the Epic age.
In his attitudes to life and its cosmic context Aeschylus is
more Hebraic, Sophocles more Hellenic. The chorus in Antigone says
what Sophocles' tragedies illustrate:
"Many a wonder lives and moves,
but the wonder of all is MAN."
Arnold J. Toynbee quotes the following lines from the chorus
in Oedipus at Colonnus:9
Not to be born, by all acclaim,
Were best; but, once that gate be passed,
To hasten thither whence he came
Is Man's next prize - and fast, Oh fast!
and considers the extract Sophocles' "pessimistic verdict
on the Predicament of being born into this world....."10. The view that the Greek tragedy presents a pessimistic picture
of human lot is the result of a misinterpretation. The process of the "hasten
thither" is the process of the unfolding of the dynamic and potential aspects
of existence. The crux of the theme of Antigone is human dignity - the wish
to be "true to thyself". The central situation of peril is deliberately
created by Antigone herself for the wishes to maintain her dignity and her loyalty
to the supra-mundane power even though that may incur regal resentment11. Oedipus is described by the chorus as a paradigm. His answer
to Sphinx's riddle is MAN. His pattern of tragic evolution illustrates excellently
Protagoras' view of man: "Man is the measure of all things." "Protagoras"
famous statement is the epitome of the critical and optimistic spirit of the
middle years of the 5th century; its implications are clear - man is the centre
of the universe, his in in-intelligence can overcome all obstacles, he is master
of his own destiny, tyrannos, self-made ruler who has the capacity to attain
complete prosperity and happiness.12 The fire which consumes Oedipus is creative and purgatorial.
Towards the end of the Oedipus the Rex Oedipus is physically wrecked
but is an illuminated soul (who has wrung his illumination after suffering on
a grand scale) and becomes on object of reverence in Oedipus at Colonus.
When we read Antigone or Oedipus we are less conscious of the hero's
vain struggle with ruthless destiny. In the words of Louis Campbell we are more
conscious of the emotions of wonder concerning human life and of admiration
of nobleness in the unfortunate.
In Oedipus the heart of the problem is MAN who is
not as "X in an indeterminate equation 13 but a veritable "anthropos trannos". We are constantly
impelled to render tribute to this great demonstrator of the infinite potentialities
"O mirror of our fickle state
Since man on earth unparalleled !
The rarer thy example stands
By how much from the top of the wondrous glory
Strongest of mortal men,
To lowest pitch of abject fortune thou art fallen.14
The great tragic protagonists work out their salvation or damnation
in the cosmic context of existence. They "take arms against a sea of troubles
but "by opposing" end themselves.
In modern times we are losing all sense of human dignity which
reveals itself even in the moments of overwhelming peril. The restoration of
the sense of intrinsic is the remedy prescribed by the existentialists. 15 This sense of dignity for which we, of "the 26th civilization"
(Tonbee's view) so hopelessly crave for, is a sovereign quality of the personality
of tragic sufferers through whom the tragic thinkers of Greece set forth their
attitudes towards MAN.
The Latin phase of western culture was the decadent continuation
of the Hellenic culture with certain modifications made inevitable by the configuration
of historical facts of the time. Seneca. (c. B.C. 4-c. 65 A.D.) is the most
representative tragic artist of this phase. In Greek tragedies the nobility
of tragic sufferers and the triumph of the positive in the universe are empirically
justified by the facts and events of a tragic play; whereas in Senecan tragedies
the triumph of the positive is the result more of aphoristic assertions than
of the pattern of the evolution of the instrument of cognition that every tragic
sufferer is. "........ the beauty of phrase in Greek tragedy is the shadow
of a greater beauty - the beauty of thought and emotion. In the tragedies of
Seneca the centre of value is shifted from what the personage says to the way
in which he says it 16. Very often the value comes near to being smartness."
The characters in Senecan tragedy are under the bondage of philosophy: they
are not the multidimensional beings of the Hellenic world out to explore the
plural facets of existence but are to set forth philosophic notions which have
only exotic life in the work in which they occur.
Henri Pirenne denies that there was any real breach in the
history of western culture until the Mohammedans occupied the Mediterranean.
17 But in tragedy a new phase is observed. The Middle Ages could
not produce any great tragic work primarily because the Zeit-geist
was not conducive to the tragic exploration which requires infinite faith in
man. W. T. Stace has thus drawn the characteristics of mediaeval world-picture
and modern world-picture:
The Religious View of the World.
The Scientific View of the World or
The world is ultimately governed by spiritual
The world is wholly governed by blind
physical forces such as gravitation, the laws of motion, the laws of
chemical combination etc.
The world has a purpose.
The world has no purpose. It is entirely
senseless and meaningless.
The world is a moral order.
The world is not a moral order. The universe
is indifferent to values of any kind. 18
The Christian view of MAN prevailed during this period. The
redeemed MAN was important only as the evidence of the operation of Grace. He
was exclusively at God's mercy; for he knew that only divine intervention saved
him from damnation and only divine succour could help him in the “darkness of
the world”. Hence to a very great extent the mediaeval man had lost faith in
his individual dignity because he was constantly obsessed by the consciousness
of his frailties. The tragedies of the saints are pseudo-tragedies.19 When tragic sufferers are of the stuff of which we are made
their lot is pathetic (for all glory has vanished from our “straw stuffed 20 life” ) Man was the subject of tragic meditation but the
Middle Ages found him not the symbol of glories but one “through whom (one)
receives a distinct message from the transcendental world. 21” The message was: man is a frail creature always on God's
mercy. The study of the following extract will make the mediaeval attitudes
to man clear:
“O my most sweete Redeemer, which descendest from heaven, and
ascendest this Cross to redeem man paying their sinnes with thy dolours, I present
myself before thy Majestie, grieved that my grievous sinnes have been the cause
of thy terrible pains. Upon me, O Lord, these chastisements had been justly
employed, for I am hee that sinned, and not upon thee that never sinnedst. Let
that love that moved thee to put thyselfe upon the Crosse for me, move thee
to pardon what I have committed against thee. 22 Man was in the mood of self-surrender: even his salvation
could be achieved not by his dynamism but by divine intervention. Tragedy presents
not the picture of a frail man but of a dynamic potential man with the right
to sin. 23 The mediaevalists had lost faith in human dignity and potentiality,
hence the tragedies written in this ethos 24 present only the pathetic picture of existence.
The Renascence may be described as the period of the re-making
of man's personality. The sovereign feature of the Renascence is humanism which
reveals itself through all the premier works of this epoch, most forcefully
in tragedies. "Humanism denotes a specific bias which the forces liberated
in the Renaissance took from contact with the ancient world--the particular
form assumed by human self-esteem at that epoch--the ideal of life and civilization
evolved by the modern nations. It indicates the endeavour of man to reconstitute
himself as a free being, not as the thrall of theological despotism and the
peculiar assistance he derived in this effort from Greek and Roman literature,
the litterae humaniores, letters leaning rather to the side of man
than of divinity."25 Western civilization expresses, and indeed achieves, its
individuality, not by distinguishing itself from Hellenic Civilization, but
by identifying itself therewith.26 This identification was most conspicuously made during the
Renascence.27 But the concept of man which prevailed during the period
was very different from the concept of man of the Hellenic world. R. G. Collingwood
has drawn our attention to this point.
"In spite of the new interest in Graeco-Roman thought,
the Renaissance conception of Man was profoundly different from the Graeco-Roman;
and, when a writer like Machiavelli, in the early sixteenth century, expressed
his idea about History in the shape of a commentary on the first ten books of
Livy's own view of History. Man, for the Renaissance historian was not Man as
depicted by Ancient Philosophy, controlling his actions and creating his destiny
by the work of his intellect, but Man as depicted by Christian thought, a creature
of passion and impulse. History thus became the history of human passions, regarded
as necessary manifestations of Human Nature."28
It is true that the Renascence man had hyper-emotional personality
and his inner world became the chief sphere of exploration. But to regard the
Renascence view of man as "Christian" is to consider this remarkable
Kuturkampf in a wrong perspective. The concept of man as it emerges
from the tragedies of this phase is of organic man with voluntaristic aspects
most dominating. In the tragedies written by pseudo-tragic artists the voluntaristic
aspects were overstressed to the point of making the whole situation melodramatic
(The Spanish Tragedy by Kyde is a case in point). Genuine tragic artists
(e.g. Marlowe and Shakespeare) explored the inner world of man in order to underscore
the dignity and potentiality of man in an anthropo-centric universe. None could
say in the Middle Ages what Hamlet has said about man:
"What a piece of work is man......"
The Renascence tragedies amply illustrate a new world of human
possibilities which was discovered by the contemporaries of Columbus and Drake.
The transformation of the theocentric universe into anthropocentric one accounts
for dominant humanistic note in Elizabethan tragedies. The tyranny of the wheel
of Fortune terminates. The sublime egotism of Tamburlaine expresses the coming
of a new man who has liberated himself from Christian bondage, and conceives
the glories of life in the pursuit of the majestic biddings of the mind:
I hold the Fates bound fast in yron chaine,
And with my hand turne Fortunes wheel about
And sooner shall the Sun fall from spheare
Than Tamburlaine be slaine or overcome.
Marlowe's tragic protagonists seem to reject not only the Geocentric
conception of the universe held by the mediaevalists but even the Heliocentric
concept held by Kepler: they tend to believe the homocentric concept of the
universe. The will to Power which becomes a credo with the author of Thus
Spake Zarathustra is passionality advocated by Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus.
The glories of the Renascence man are most manifest in Shakespeare's tragedies
in which the three sectors of the existential universe---metaphysical, psychic
and physical--are explored to show a tragic universe with a pattern of stormy
symphony, in which great men work out the riddles of existence on a cosmic scale.
The tragic characters face the adverse music of life with infinitely appreciable
sublime grandeur. If Shakespeare himself ever had that 'dark period' which his
critics and biographers have imagined for him, it was at least no darkness like
that bleak and arid despair which sometimes settles over modern spirits. In
the midst of it, he created both the elemental grandeur of Othello and the pensive
majesty of Hamlet and, holding them up to his contemporaries, he said in the
words of his own Miranda, "Oh rare new world that has such creatures in
it."29 While reading Shakespeare the human values and possibilities
are our sovereign interest: we are less inclined to pass verdict on the basis
of hamartia. To consider Hamlet "melancholy" and
Timon a symbol of "hopeless misanthropy"30 is most un-Shakespearean approach to Shakespeare. Deaths
in the Renascence tragedy abound and they differ from the Deaths in mediaeval
tragedies. Man dreaded Death in the Middle Ages primarily because that precluded
"preparation for death" and Repentance. In the Renascence tragedies
no preparatory stage is considered essential.31 Macbeth is the symbol of evil. But the symbol of evil too
is not bereft of the positive and is an instrument for the assertion of an order
in the universe. "Though Macbeth is a miserable, and a banished, and
a damned creature yet he is God's creature still and contributes something
to his glory even in his damnation."32 One can unhesitatingly accept Professor Alexander's application
of Donnes words:
"Thou knowest this man's fall, but thou knowest not his
wrestling; which perchance was such that almost his very fall is justified and
accepted of God."33
King Lear has a pattern of evolution resembling Oedipus'. A
Shakespearian hero is great not because he belongs to the elevated stratum of
the society but because he has the greatest capacity of suffering for self-selected
values. His values are ultimately not approved by the mysterious principle of
existence in universe but the greatness of the sufferer evokes constant admiration.
Imaginative potentiality is almost a birth right of man in Shakespeare.34 This restores faith in human values even when man is seen
in the state of aberration of values. Man is complex (or "broad" in
Dostoevsky's sense)35 not yielding to superficial categorization.
How many goodly creatures are there !
How beauteous mankind is ! O brave new world
That has such people in it.
A great revolution in the sphere of culture was at work in
the 17th Century. It is true that "another two or three hundred years had
to pass before the epigone of the victory in a seventeenth century Kulturkampf
could become fully alive to the truth that Queen Anne was dead.36 Yet the tragic artists of that period reveal a set of attitudes
towards man conspicuously different from that of the preceding phase. Man in
the tragedies by Thomas Heywood (e.g. A Woman killed with Kindness),
Thomas Middleton and Rowley (The Changeling), Webster (The white
Devil; The Duchess of Malfi) and Tourneur (The Revenger's Tragedy)
is rich in melodrama and sensationalism but very poor in asserting the positive
of existence, the nobility and dignity of the Being. Morality that we get in
the Duchess of Malfi has an exotic life in the work; for the characters
do not have the capacity for working out the moral issues. Man does not discover
a pattern of stormy symphony: he shares the same sentiments which Vittoria utters
in these lines:
"My soul, like to a ship in a black storm
Is driven, I know not whither."
George De La Tour of Lorraine 37 (1593-1652) meditated in the chamber of darkness (with a
candle burning) on the skull and discovered an eternal order behind the confusions,
ambiguities and brittleness of human existence. The Jacobean tragedies are rich
in moral aphorisms but man in them fails in having empirical understanding of
the sturdy positive of the existence. With the Jacobeans set in the period of
The remarkable Kulturkampf which occurred in the second
half of file 17th Century had to struggle for nearly two centuries to establish
its sovereignty in the 20th Century. The phase of the Romantic Revival was a
short interregnum though even in this epoch the spirit of the late 17th Century
Kulturkampf was working with force. With this Kulturkampf
begins Modern Age , the most inauspicious phase in human history. Despite the
voices of dissent,38 the mechanical view of life 39 has imprisoned us in its cell.40
Tragedies written in this period do not require detailed analysis,
for they are at least only pseudo-tragedies. In the period of dissociated and
disgruntled men tragic exploration is not possible. The conspicuous absence
of genuine tragedies in the modern age is the result of a growing superficial
view of man.
In the Age of Enlightenment man was conceived of as a mere
log in the world-machine. This Newtonian idea is harped on even
now by such a distinguished thinker as Prof. Bergmann:
"I believe as a matter of course that the world is Neutonian."41 The Cartesian philosophy was responsible for a dissociation
in Man. The rational42 man of the Age of Enlightenment was not the whole man or
organic man. The split personality is the characteristic feature of modern man.
In the Age of Reason, the rational man got triumph: in the Age of Romanticism,
the emotional man emerged: in our own age man has lost his equilibrium, and
the society all right sense of values. Dryden's All for Love, Shelley's
Prometheus Unbound and Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral are
all out of rhythm with time. The tragedies just mentioned suffer from what Jordan
M. Scher calls "alienation."43
The Cartesianism of Dryden, Otway, Southerne, Rowe and Addison
is responsible for the absence of complexity in characters. They wanted to invest
man with grandeur when the time-spirit was conceiving him as a mere cog in the
machine. A wish to prolong the past could not succeed against the overwhelming
odds. "In France, Corneille also, it is true, had based tragedy upon admiration,
but he had put all the intellectual quality of his Cartesianism into the emotion
of a soul overwhelmed by the beauty of noble sacrifices; esteem, with him, was
the fruit of a reason sublimated into moral passion, and in this way it bound
up the desires of the heart with the decisions of conscience. And if the hero
merited our entire sympathy, it was because his nobleness was a conquest, the
reward of a cruel struggle against himself. All this subtlety and, it must be
said, this idealism are absent from Dryden's notion of heroism; this, no doubt,
does not resolve itself completely into mere physical courage, and great stroke
of the sword; but its spiritual values seem to depend chiefly upon the lack
of any struggle, and upon a victory immediately won over nature and the flesh."44 Even the most heroic soul in the heroic tragedies is a mere
"monosign" whereas a true tragic character is a plurisign".45 A comparison of All for Love with Antony and Cleopatra
makes the whole point clear.46
The Romantic Revival produced a number of tragedies from which
emerges the image of hyper-emotional man with very wrong understanding of values.47 The Gothic culture could not produce a sound, integrated
man. Cenci is a typical figure: Prometheus is a figure in Shelley's Utopian
vision. The 19th Century was a decadent phase in the history of British drama.
Tragedies written in this period of decadence could not be the repositories
of the serious explorations of the meaning of life. Absence of genuine tragedies
during the period was the result of a Zeit-geist not conducive to the
plumbing into human potentialities. Romanticism tried to revive something of
the mediaeval world-picture but this revival was not for long on account of
the growing force which emanated from the late 17th Century Kulturkampf.
In the 20th Century great attempts have been made to write
tragedies all over the West. The most notable artists are Ibsen, O'Neill, Luigi
Pirandello, Maurice Maeterlinck, John Millington Synge, Tennessee Williams,
Arthur Miller, Jean Paul Sartre, Gabrial Marcel. The study of modern tragedies
yield to us a more organic and realistic image of man than do the tragedies
of the 19th Century England which had very little realistic moorings into existence.
But it is not easy to dig out the nuggets of the conception of modern man easily;
for the tragic writers in our times very often very intricately combine "a
wish for something of the past with the reality of the present".
Ibsen has obvious positive attitudes towards man.48 In Rosmersholm Johannes Rosmer and Rebecca West
follow the idea of "to be true to thyself". Rosmersholm is
perhaps the more coherent moral vision of Ibsen. Peer Gynt presents
a world in which man (Peer) discovers how he is a follower of the trollhood
(the philosophy of "to thyself be enough"). Modern society
is studied in the work with a wonderful exactitude. About Hedda Gabler Ibsen
"It was not really my desire to deal in this play with social problems.
What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions and
Hedda's wreck indeed produces a sense of "tragic waste"
but the pattern of suffering is of one left desolate and dreary on the cruel
waves of time. Ghosts and A Doll's House, two most representative
works of Ibsen, present a number of pathetic character's at the mercy of extrinsic
and intrinsic forces of determinism.
O'Neill, like Anderson and Synge, believes ultimately in the
view that "Life laughs with God's love again" (the closing words of
Days Without End). Even in the plays most dominated by Strindbergian
destructive obsessions for instance "The Great God Brown and Lazarus
Laughed there is an obvious "lyric affirmation of life".
It is, indeed, difficult, to agree with J. W. Krutch:
"It is possible to interpret Death of a Salesman as brutal naturalism and
A Streetcar Named Desire as a sort of semi-surrealist version of the
Strindbergian submission to destructive obsessions."49
but it is obvious that the world of Tennessee Williams and
Arthur Miller's tragedies consists of pathetic creatures incapable of maintaining
individual dignity in the deterministic society of ours. What a critic has said
about Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie is equally applicable to
other plays by Williams and Miller:
"The characters (e.g. Laura and Amanda) pathetic though may be are too
shallow, too trivial, to have in them the qualities of tragic greatness".
In A Streetcar Named Desire Williams presents a world
wherein life has lost all balance and all conformity with the positive forces
of existence. Stella and her "virile" but crude husband have regimented
personality. Blanche Du Bois, who tries to improve his ways of existence,
is shown ultimately insane. "The tragic feeling," says Arthur
Miller, "is evoked when we are in the presence of a character who is ready
to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his personal dignity."
Willy Loman of Miller's Death of a Salesman has some amount of imaginative
fertility but like Hamlet he fails in action. In Hamlet Hamlet's existence
is not all dark and ambiguous: towards the end the note of symphony is struck.
"With reflections of the past playing continually over the present, Miller's
play focuses on the end of that life when, ironically, the last opportunity
for creative action remaining to Willy is the opportunity to destroy himself."50 Despite occasional flashes of the positive 51 the representative plays of Williams and Miller are dominated
by some sort of notion of the ambiguity and brittleness of human values. "They
represent, that is to say, the collapse of a reaction, and illustrate, as did
O'Casey, an irresistible pull in the direction of nihilism and despair.52
A reference, in passing, to the existentialists, seems essential;
for in our days they have done most serious thinking about man and have influenced
in some sense the whole modern ethos. They have put "emphasis on human
existence" and have explored the image of modern man--a disgruntled, decadent,
alienated and dissociated figure.53 A character in Gabriel Marcel's 54 play considers our society "lepers' colony" which
is growing speedily. Martin Heidegger 55 considers life "unauthentic" and "compulsive":
we find the horror of this "unauthentic" and "compulsive"
life in the plays of the existential artists--a life which at most points says
with Garcin (No Exit 56 by Jean Paul Sartre):
"I don't know. I am waiting."
The loss of human dignity and the undermining of faith in human
values are the outcome of our technocratic civilization. Demcracy in the right
sense is not against human dignity, rather it makes inevitable the assertion
of an individual human dignity. But in our society democracy is perverted, and
the socio-political isms regiment human personality. We have grown accustomed
to what is called "assembly-line living."57 Reviewing The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud David
Baken has said:
"Freud once wrote that the world had experienced blows
to its narcissism: the cosmological blow from Copernicus, the biological blow
of the hand of (Sic) Darwin, and the psycho- logical blow from psychoanalysis.
Each of these, from the vantage point of 1957, has had a paradoxical effect.
In spite of seeming debasement of man, each has, in its turn, increased man's
power over the forces that govern him, and has thus served to enhance dignity".58
They have given us knowledge about some aspects of man. They
have failed in restoring health to the tarnished image of man which reveals
itself in the writings of those moderns who have explored the meaning of man's
life in the civilization flourishing on a dunghill. I end this section with
an extract from W. T, Stace:
"I suggest that current literature and art, which presumably
reflect the general Weltanschauung of the age, are impregnated with a sense
of the futility and senselessness. If the world as a whole is meaningless and
purposeless, so also is human life, and that human life is thus meaningless
seems to be the main message of much modern literature. There is a contrast
here between the present and the past. To the great dramatists of all time human
life has always appeared tragic. But some pattern--if only a pattern of Fate--could
be traced in it. It has been left for the modern age to find life literally
senseless. And does not the discordant character of modern music tell the same
fate ? Is it too far fetched to suggest that the older, more harmonious music
reflected the idea of world made harmonious by its obedience to a divine plan,
while current music by its jarring discords suggest the uselessness of all things
and all life?59
Doesn't the whole account remind us of the Painter's reply
to the Poet in The Life of Tymon of Athens?
"Poet. .... .how goes the world ?
Painter: It weares Sir, as it grows.60
In the he Greek thought MAN was a dynamic creature with brilliant creative faculty.
Gods ruled the universe: and Destiny often exercised its arbitrariness but MAN
was exclusively preoccupied with the working out of the riddles of existence.
Man was a great sufferer: he was also a powerful cognitive instrument. In the
Middle Ages MAN became a frail creature standing in the mood of self-surrender
before the massive CROSS. The Renascence witnessed the revival of the Hellenic
view of man modified by the mediaeval view of man [- a creature
of passion who needs constant restraint of Reason (Christ Himself is Reason)].
In the Age of Enlightenment MAN became a two-dimensional creature, a mere cog
in the world-machine. The MAN in the Romantic period had greater knowledge of
the melodrama of existence than of its equilibrium. The Victorian culture was
itself superficial and had a wrong sense of values. MAN in our century is "a
helpless and fragile beach-ball. 61 In the melodrama of existence we all are pathetic characters.
With no amount of glittering achievements our civilization can camouflage its
wounds. Modern man is
"Like a patient etherized upon a table".62
Even if he regains his consciousness he is bound to collapse
again for in the present state of affairs his disease appears to have
1 I. A. Richards, Principles Of Literary Criticism
(London, 1955 page - 6-9. See also page 32.
2 W. T. Stace: Religion and Modern Mind Ch. I. p.1.
3 Cf. the view in Rene Wellek and Austin Warren: Theory
of Literature (London 1955) p. 72.
4 I. A. Richards - op. cit. 61.
5 F. R. Leavis: News Bearing in Modern Poetry.
6 W. T. Stace: Religion and Modern Mind. p.1.
7 "..... eagles fashion who in lonely
Grief for nestlings above their homes hang
Turning in Cycles
Beating the air with the oars of their wings
Now to no purpose
Their love and task attention.
But above there is One
May be Pan, may be Zeus and Apollo
Who hears the harsh cries of the birds
Guests in his kingdom
Wherefore, though late, in requital
He sends the Avenger.
Aeschylus: Agamamnon (Tr. by Louis MacNeice (Faber) p.15.
8 T. S. Eliot: Baudelaire in Selected Essays (Faber).
9 Oedipus at Colonnus (II. 1227-8).
10 Arnold J. Toynbee: A Study of History. Vol. IX
(Oxford, 1954), p. 161.
A hopeless quest should not be made at all.
Antigone: If thou speakest, thou wilt have hatred from me, and will
justly be subject to the lasting hatred of the dead. But leave me and the folly
that is mine alone, to suffer this dread thing; for I shall not suffer aught
so dreadful as die ignoble death." Sophocles: Antigone.
Knox: ‘Sophocles' Oedipus’ in Tragic themes in Western Literature.
is Ivan's discovery of himself in The Brothers Karamazou by Dostoevsky.
Samson Agonistes. 164-169.
Marcel. The Existential Background of Human Dignity (Massachusetts
1963), ch. VII. p. 114.
S. Eliot: ‘Seneca in Elizabethan Translation’: Selected Essays (London)
Encyclopaedia Britannica vol. 15 p. 648.
T. Stace: Religion and the Modern Mind. Ch. 7, p. 146.
is only possible to a mind which is for the moment agnostic or Manichean. The
least touch of any theology which has a compensating Heaven to offer the tragic
hero is fatal.”
I. A. Richards: Principles of Literary Criticism. p. 246. Cf. the views
set forth by Louis L. Martz: ‘The saint as a Tragic Hero’ in Tragic
themes in Western literature p. 150.
evidence is Abraham and Isaac.
expression is borrowed from Evelyan Underhill: Mysticism p. 376.
quoted by Louis Martz in The Poetry of Meditation (Yale University
Press) p. 49.
tragic writer does not have to believe in God, but he must believe in man."
Joseph Wood Krutch: The Modern Temper (New York).
was wanting (in the Middle Ages) was not vitality and licence, not audacity
of speculation, not lawless instinct or rebellious impulse. It was rather the
right touch on life, the right feeling for human independence, the right way
of approaching the materials of philosophy, religion, scholarship and literature
that failed. Man and the actual universe kept reasserting their rights and claims
in one way or another; fictions, visions, spectral hopes and fears, in the midst
of which the intellect somnambulistically moved upon an unknown way.
Encyclopoedia Britannica Vol. p. 125.
Britannica. Vol. 19 p. 123.
Collingwood: The Idea of History (Oxford 1946) p. 163.
Spengler's view set forth in Der Untergang des Abendlandes Vol. I quoted
by A. J. Toynbee; A Study of History Vol. IX, pp. 65-66.
G. Collingwood: The Idea of History, p. 57.
W. Krutch. - Vide supra.
T. M. Parrot and R.H. Bale: A Short view of Elizabetham Drama (Scribner Library,
New York 1958). Cf. W. Knight: The wheel of Fire.
Spencer: Death and Elizabethan Tragedy (Combridge Mass. 1936).
Alexander in Shakespeare's Life and Art, p. 173.
ed. Heyward, p. 663.
Imagination is one of the highest prerogative of man" Darwin: Decent
of Man, 1901. p. 113.
Dr. K.R. Srinivas Iyengar: Shakespeare's Moral Artistry in Shakespeare Number
of Bhavan's Journal April 26, 1964, p. 37.
Toynbee: A Study of History, Vol. IX, p. 68.
Martz: The Poetry of Meditation. (Yale University Press).
Kant, Hegel and the post-Kantian idealists, Romantics, the British and American
absolute idealists Bradley, Bosanquet, Royce.
(For brief account see the Age of Enlightenment in A History of Civilization
Vol. II by Carl Brinton and others).
Hobbes, Newton, Hume, Gomte, Vaihinger, the logical positivists-Schlick, Ayer,
details see W. T. Stace: Religion and Modern Mind, p. 149.
Meaning and Existence Madison, Wis. 1960. p. 10.
. .are maintained only at the cost of dissociation."
Claire Russell and W. M. S. Russell: Raw Materials for a Definition of Mind
in Theories of Mind (New York 1960) ed. Jordan M. Scher: p. 545.
refer to the basic rhythmicity with which man as a being in the world is endowed.
Man as rhythm in the world is perhaps the most basic aspect of his
participant being. Alienation, the non-participant or limited participant state,
is the most manifest example of out-of-phase or diatythmic, experience."--Jordon
M. Scher: Mind as Participation, in Theories of Mind p. 355.
A History of English Literature (London 1954) pp. 651-652.
terms borrowed from Philip Wheelwright: The Semantics of Poetry in Kenyon
Review 11. (1940).
M. Waith: The Herculean Hero (London 1962), p. 188. Reference is made
to F. Hannmann: Dryden's Tragodie "All for Love"
und ihr Verhattnis Zu Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra."
is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard
of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever
may be their social consequence."
Bertrand Russell: A History of Western Philosophy.
Reichardt: "Tragedy of Idealism: Henrik Ibsen" see Tragic Themes in
Western Literature (Yale university Press 1956) p. 129.
Krutch: "Modernism" in Modern Drama quoted in Two
Modern American Tragedies p. 135.
J. Foster: "Confusion and Tragedy: The Failure of Miller's Salesman"
see Two Modern American Tragedies. ed. by Hurrell (New York 1961),
extract from a tragedy by Tennesse Williams:
Alma: ... Who was it that said - Oh, so beautiful thing!-
"All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
John: Mr. Oscar Wilde.
Alma: (somewhat taken aback) Well, regardless of who said it, it's still true.
Some of us are looking at the stars."
Krutch.: "Modernism in Modern Drama" (Ithca, N.Y.) see Two Modern
American Tragedies, ed. by Hurrell, p. 135.
existentialism's concern about man grows out of specifically modern conditions..
.Among these conditions are the loss of the individual in mass culture and technology,
the consequent alienation of the human person from himself as well as from his
productions, and the loss of meaning in life through divisions within the human
spirit. The result of these conditions is frequently called "the existential
Robert N. Beck: Perspectives in Philosophy (New York 1961), p. 341.
by Gabriel Marcel: The Existential Background of Human Dignity.
Heidegger: Existence and Being (Chicago).
No Exit tr. by S. Gilbert see Masters of Modern Drama ed. by Block
(New York '63), p. 802.
Chaplin, in Modern Times displayed artistic intuition by beginning
his picture with a flock of sheep running down a lane as a preface to the hero's
struggle with assembly-line-living"
Howard Liddell: The Biology of the Prejudiced Mind. See Theories of Mind
by John Gassner in Tragic "Perspectives: A sequence of Queries".
See Two Modern American Tragedies ed. by Hurrell (New York 1961.),
T. Stace: Religion and the Modern Mind. Ch.5, pp. 100-101.
The Life of Tymon of Athens Act 1, Scene 1.
expression is borrowed from Donald D. Glad: Mind as an Organismic Integration"
in Theories of the Mind ed. by Jordan M. Scher (New York 1962), p.
S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
* This article is
slightly amended version of my article published in the Magadh University