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Heroes and States

Heroes and States: On the Ideology of Restoration Tragedy

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Heroes and States
    Book Description:

    To understand the cultural history of England during the Restoration, one need look no further than the theater, which was attended by the gentry as well as by members of the middle and lower classes. The theater of this period embodied the values, meanings, and power relations of Restoration England. InHeroes and States, Douglas Canfield argues that drama not only represents but actually helps constitute the value and belief systems of an entire culture.

    Heroes and Statescompletes Canfield's two-volume cultural history of Restoration drama, begun inTricksters and Estates: On the Ideology of Restoration Comedy. In this second volume Canfield shows how Restoration playwrights attempted to rein scribe late-feudal aristocratic ideology after the English Civil War.

    In the serious drama of the period, conflict is between noble heroes, upon whom states are built, and transgressors of the established order -- tyrants, traitors, usurpers, rapists, and atheists. Canfield considers several sub genres of tragedy. He argues that most of these sub genres reaffirm the older ideology after testing it in the fires of conflict. Tragical satire, on the other hand, the most subversive of these sub genres, exposes the failure of the ruling class to live up to its own codes and, in some cases, the absurdity of the codes themselves.

    Canfield also finds playwrights struggling with issues of race and colonialism. He uses the work of modern theorists such as Bakhtin, Girard, Kristeva, Derrida, Althusser, Williams, and Eagleton to illuminate aspects of his inquiries. Restoration tragedy stands on the cusp of a cultural transition from a late feudal to an early bourgeois ideology, and the issues and themes addressed in the theater validate the culture and politics of seventeenth-century England.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5958-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    Restoration tragedy in general marks a desperate reactionary attempt after the English Civil War to reinscribe feudal, aristocratic, monarchial ideology. My thesis in general is that Restoration tragedy, like Restoration comedy (as I have argued inTricksters and Estates: On the Ideology of Restoration Comedy), remains essentially conservative, reaffirming aristocratic ideology in the teeth of challenges—until the Glorious Revolution called forth a new bourgeois ideology. No ideology is seamless, however. It must be repeatedly supplemented, and occasionally we can see between the seams. I argue that the conflict in Restoration tragedy features the values of the ruling class brought...

  5. 1 Heroes and States: Heroic Romance
    (pp. 6-25)

    The restored king and court had been quite taken with French drama in their exiled sojourn on the continent, particularly the rhymed romances and tragedies of France’s greatest dramatist at midcentury, Pierre Corneille. So Charles II invited his courtier playwrights to follow suit. The very formal style of such plays, with their oratorical declamations, can only be appreciated today if we view them as operatic spectacles (indeed, such spectacles developed alongside them). Despite Puritanical strictures against the theater, Sir William Davenant had already staged the first version of the Restoration rhymed heroic play,The Siege of Rhodes, in 1656, an...

  6. 2 Villains and States: Romantic Tragedy
    (pp. 26-40)

    Romantic tragedies tend to be quite black and white, pitting good against evil, as in romance, with gray characters in the middle, more sinned against than sinning. Such tragedies most often conclude in stages littered with the bodies of the suffering innocent as well as the sinners and the villains. That is, romantic tragedies do not conclude in the distributive justice of romance, where not only are villains defeated but heroes are ultimately rewarded after trial. Romantic tragedies do, nevertheless, conclude in retributive justice against their dark villains and usually with some kind of promise of reward in the afterlife...

  7. 3 Fathers and Sons: Political Tragedy
    (pp. 41-59)

    All these state-sponsored romances and tragedies are political in the broad sense that they generally produce hegemonic ideology. But some Restoration tragedies are political in a narrower sense: this sense may include topical reference, but I am using the term here to imply a larger pattern of figuration intended to reaffirm hegemonic ideology by defending its regnant political theory. The majority of Restoration political tragedies polemically defend Stuart monarchial theory of hereditary succession, especially at the time of the most severe political crisis of the era, 1678–88, from the Popish Plot through the Exclusion Crisis to the Glorious Revolution....

  8. 4 States of Mind: Personal Tragedy
    (pp. 60-77)

    There is a tradition of personal tragedy in Western culture since Aristotle that focuses on essentially great protagonists who through some fatal mistake or crime suffer catastrophe. Abetted by neoclassical theorizing about tragedy and by the magnificent neoclassical tragedies of Jean Racine in France, in the 1670s some of the best playwrights of the Restoration tried their hand at this bow of Ulysses. Aristocratic tragedy is based on the premise that the nobility have great souls capable of great passion. The hands of the best stringers of the bow—Lee and Dryden—mold heroes whose conflicting passions destroy them and...

  9. 5 Apocalypse Now: Tragical Satire
    (pp. 78-113)

    The ending of tragical satire is foreboding, featuring either draconian, apocalyptic justice or no justice at all. The sense of the ending is that evil perseveres, threats to the hegemonic class persist unchecked, unaneled. At its best, Restoration tragical satire splits the seams of the aristocratic ideological cloak and allows us to see its inherent contradictions. In his early playThe Vestal Virgin(1664), Sir Robert Howard (like John Fowles inThe French Lieutenant’s Woman) writes alternative endings, one tragic with no metaphysical consolation (hence a romantic tragedy), the other comic with a distributive poetical justice attributing the dynamic of...

  10. 6 States and Estates: Tragicomic Romance
    (pp. 114-144)

    Like tragicomedy in general, original Restoration tragicomedy has no precise generic limits. Playwrights used the term to refer to plays that range in form from some of the rhymed heroic plays (Sir William Killigrew’sOrmasdesand John Weston’sAmazon Queen) all the way down the mimetic scale from court to domestic settings to such an obvious low comedy as Thomas Porter’sWitty Combat.¹ Title-page labels do not help. Restoration tragicomedy is part of the larger genre of romance. Tragicomic romance is a more domestic form of romance than heroic, featuring lessintérêt d’étatand including comic, even farcical scenes. As...

  11. 7 Dramatic Shifts: Shifting Tropes of Ideology in Revolutionary Tragedy
    (pp. 145-198)

    After the Revolution of 1688, shifting tropes of ideology in the various subgenres of tragedy help to constitute the transformation from an aristocratic, late feudal to a newly dominant bourgeois ideology.¹ By bourgeois I mean those meanings and values associated loosely with the ascension into the old ruling aristocracy of a rising middle class that gained increasing wealth from the end of the Middle Ages into the Modern period and demanded its share of power.

    As I see it, the change in ideology, unlike the change in social history, is rather a sudden transformation—what Thomas Kuhn calls a paradigm...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 199-200)

    By definition, ruling-class ideology obfuscates. Recall the words of d’Aubignac with which I began, that seventeenth-century tragedy features “the Agitations and sudden turns of the fortune of great people.” For French and English state-sponsored theater in at least the second half of this century in general, and for Restoration tragedy in particular, then, tragedy is a large but exceedingly class-based tent. What is remarkable about such tragedy is the way in which conflict is portrayed as almost exclusively intraclass, obscuring most power relations beyond the dynastic. The common people are a trope, the stereotype of themobile:unfixed, capricious, mindless....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-215)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 216-227)
  15. Index
    (pp. 228-238)
  16. Index of Characters
    (pp. 239-250)