Norman J. DeWitt explains, in an introduction to this volume, that these essays are written in terms of a personal humanism. “Personal humanism,” Mr. DeWitt says, “comes from an awareness of a world in which pain is real, and it leads to the traditional virtues of wisdom and justice, terms that are seldom heard in academic circles today.” Traditionalist though he may be in the basic virtues, Professor Falk, in these studies, challenges a traditional concept. By analyzing the conflicting values in five plays, he demonstrates why the traditional definition of tragedy should be broadened. He shows that martyrdom and self-sacrifice, when they involve an act of renunciation, should be included in the realm of tragedy. The older concept ruled out these elements by its insistence that the death of a martyr is not the defeat but the victory of an individual. The five plays studied here are Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Antigone, Corneille’s Polyeucte, Maeterlinck’s Aglavaine and Selysette, and Samain’s Polypheme. In all of them, the tragic experience of man’s defeat in an unequal struggle against destiny is examined in the light of the conflict between his worldly and his spiritual aspirations. The plays illustrate the tenet that renunciation becomes a tragic experience only if the character’s devotion to both worldly and spiritual values is genuine. In succession, the five plays represent a progression from authentic to seeming renunciation. The studies are pertinent to many interests in the broad academic field of the humanities as well as to such specific disciplines as comparative literature, drama, French literature, and the classics.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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