Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elucidate Raymond Williams’ views on ‘Rejection of Tragedy’

Williams’ essay ‘Rejection of Tragedy’ is a study of the rejection of tragedy in modern age with special reference to Bertolt Brechet who founded epic theater as compared to the emotional theory of Aristotle.  He rejected the conventional idea of tragedy and made tragedy more experiential and rational.
He made people think above the situation presented in the tragedy and not within. Aristotelian drama enforced thinking from within and Brechet’s theater from without. He used distancing affects to turn people like spectators who sit in the chair, smoke and observe. He showed what the audience wanted to see. Williams has discussed six plays: The Three Penny Opera, Saint Joan of the Stockyard, Die Massnahme, The Good Woman of Sezuen, Mother Courage and Her Children and the Life of Galileo. In the last play mentioned, the hero is offered two choices one between accepting the terms or the other being destroyed. Nevertheless, the hero recants.  Tragedy, says Williams, in some of its older senses is certainly rejected by this ‘complex seeing’. The major achievement of Brechet is recovery of history as a dimension of tragedy. In tragedy we must see continuity and desire for change. Catastrophe should not halt the action or push the contradictions of life into background. Suffering should be avoided because suffering breaks us, Brechet thinks that our will to struggle should not die under the weight of sufferings. Brechet’s own words are the precise expression o this new sense of tragedy:

            “The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are unnecessary”

Brechet believes that response to suffering is crucial and weight of suffering is borne by all of us. Even the spectator becomes a participant. As a participant he can condemn or comprehend the sufferings. And for this purpose, he needs some active principle which he finds in the system. But system makes its principles for its defense not for its rejection.  Our disgust is directed against morality; not upon the system. Under these circumstances morality serves the cause of the cruel system and religion and spiritualism lose their effectiveness. Morality, religion and spiritualism are used by the exploiting class as a shield against public resentment.  Brechet rejected and exposed the validity of the so-called refined sentiments of goodness, love and sacrifice. There are, to him, fake sentiments, romanticized on purpose. Love, he thinks, separates us from humanity. The emphasis on love can look like growth but it is often a simple withdrawal from the human action. Love is defined and capitalized in separation from humanity. Williams declares:

            “An evil system is protected by a false morality”

Brecht's narrative style, which he called ‘Epic Theater’, was directed against the illusion created by traditional theater of witnessing a slice of life. Instead, Brecht encouraged spectators to watch events on stage dispassionately and to reach their own conclusions. To prevent spectators from becoming emotionally involved with a play and identifying with its characters, Brecht used a variety of techniques. Notable among them was the alienation or estrangement effect, which was achieved through such devices as choosing (for German audiences) unfamiliar settings, interrupting the action with songs, and announcing the contents of each scene through posters.

Brecht first attracted attention in the Berlin as the author of provocative plays that challenged the tenets of traditional theater. In ‘St. Joan’  a modern-day Joan of Arc advocates the use of force in the fight against exploitation of workers. In his play, ‘Mother Courage and her Children’ Brechet invites us to see what happens to a good person a bad society. Through Sheen Lee, he seeks to show how goodness is exploited by gods and men and how good person is alienated. The antiwar play ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ shows an indomitable mother figure who misguidedly seeks to profit from war but loses her children instead. Brechet’s play ‘Good Woman of Sezuin’ presents a kindhearted prostitute. She is good but she is alienated. Brecht called this a parable play, the kindhearted prostitute is forced to disguise herself as her ruthless male cousin and exploit others in order to survive. According to Brechet the most alienated are the best.  He collects life from all corners of the world when he says:

            “Today when human character must be understood as the totality of   all social conditions, the epic theater is the only one that can          comprehend all the processes which could serve for a fully   representative picture of the world”

He rejected the idea that suffering can ennoble us. Bad societies, he thinks, needs heroes and it is bad life that needs sacrifices. He considers it a sin against life to allow oneself to be destroyed by cruelty. His mature dramas show that it is not possible to label people good or bad. Goodness and badness are the two alternate labels in the same individual. We have a split consciousness and live under this tension. Williams calls it ‘Complex Seeing’ which was rejected by the traditional conception of tragedy. ‘Mother Courage and her Children’ is a dramatization of conflicting instincts in a person who is not consciousness of these conflicts. But the case in ‘The Life of Galileo’ is different. Galileo is fully conscious and is free in making a choice. Galileo deals with the responsibility of the intellectual to defend his or her beliefs in the face of opposition from established authorities, in Galileo’s case the Roman Catholic Church.  We can admire or despite Galileo but Brechet is not asking us to do this. He is only telling us what happens to consciousness when it caught in a deadlock between individual and social morality. We are so used to tragedy and martyrdom under such circumstances that we are unable to see this experience in a radically different way – complex seeing and accept the complexity of the situation as a fact of life.  Facts that are concealed and brought to light as in, ‘The Life of Galileo’ Barberini says:

            “It is my own mask that permits me certain freedoms today. Dressed like this. I might be heard to murmur. If God did not exist, we should   have to invent him”

Williams in this case presents the example of Mother Courage and comments that the history and people come alive on the stage, leaping past the isolated and virtually static action that we have got used to in most modern theatre. The drama, in his opinion, simultaneously occurs and is seen. It is not ‘take the case of this woman’ but ‘see and consider what happens to these people’. The point is not what we feel about her hard lively opportunism; it is what we see, in the action, of its results. By enacting a genuine consequence, in Williams’ view, Brecht raises his central question to a new level, both dramatically and intellectually. The question is then no longer ‘are they good people?’ Nor is it, really, ‘what should they have done?” It is, brilliantly, both ‘what are they doing?’ and ‘what is this doing to them?’ In Williams’ opinion, to detach the work from its human purpose is, Brecht sees, to betray others and so betray life. It is not, in the end, what we think of Galileo as a man, but what we think of this result.

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Anonymous said...

these comments are prestigious in form and functions
i like it so very much


Anonymous said...

Very clear and good notes

Anonymous said...

Very helpful.

Mariyam Ashraf said...


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