The word coincidence is somewhat important to be kept in mind. We may have to read it in detail in the coming chapters. To start the new chapter Williams has however given is point on tradition and experience as an introduction. Here in this chapter we can also see the gradual forwarding of his point of view in some type of elaboration. We may also take it as his condensed prose style. Tragedy comes to us, as a word, from a long tradition of European civilization and it is easy to see this tradition as a continuity in one important way: that so many of the latter writers and thinkers have been conscious of the earlier, and have seen themselves as contributing to a common idea or form.
Williams has used the word continuity as collate of tradition. Yet the basic difference in two words is not ignored in any sense.
Yet ‘tradition’ and ‘continuity’, as words, can lead us into a wholly wrong emphasis. When we come to study the tradition, we are immediately aware of change. All we can take quite for granted is the continuity of ‘tragedy’ as a word. It may well be that there are more important continuities, but we can certainly not begin by assuming them. There is a common pressure, in the ordinary verbal contrast between traditional and modern, to compress and unify the various thinking of the past into a single tradition, ‘the’ tradition.
So tradition is the word used for continuity of something through a long past. This continuity may be of some ritual, behaviour or idea. In case of tragedy the continuity is of the word tragedy used for a specific form of literature. It is not only the continuity of word but also the continuity of that form of literature this word is used for. So the tradition of tragedy is on two levels: the views and explanation about the word tragedy, and the definitions and interpretations of a literary form called tragedy.
The involvement of social and cultural issues in the tradition of tragedy. In the case of tragedy, there are additional pressures of a particular kind: the assumption of a common Graeco Christian tradition, which has shaped Western civilization. Tragedy is at first sight one of the simplest and most powerful illustrations of this cultural continuity. The Christian culture is the continuity of Grecian culture. What westerns have given the utmost importance in these days are the issues of culture and language. On my part the culture and language are not the products of mankind. They are not subject to human beings. Rather human beings are subject to certain culture and language. Now with the progress of time the culture of the whole world shall undergo considerable changes. As all the human beings r using same type of things the culture of the world shall no more be varying from country to country, but be same every where.
Tragedy in the Greeks and the Elizabethans, in one cultural form; Hellenes and Christians, is a common activity. It is easy to see how convenient, how indispensable, an idea of tragedy this is. Most study of tragedy has been unconsciously determined by just this assumption, and indeed by a desire to teach and propagate it. At particular stages of our own history, the revival of tragedy has been a strategy determined by this consciousness of a necessary tradition. In our own century, especially, when there has been a widespread sense of that civilization being threatened, the use of the idea of tragedy, to define a major tradition threatened or destroyed by an unruly present, has been quite obvious. And then it is not a question of mere counter-assumption that there is no such significant continuity. It is a question, rather, of realizing that a tradition is not the past, but an interpretation of the past: a selection and valuation of ancestors, rather than a neutral record. And if this is so, the present, at any time, is a factor in the selection and valuation. It is not the contrast but the relationship between modern and traditional that concerns the cultural historian.
What Williams has said is important not in the context of tragedy as form or tragedy as experience, but culture and its transformation to present and modern. Why do we take something from past and leave the other is the question that can be understood in the context of present and modern only.
The culture is a living thing. It never remains stagnant or still. It grows and wears out with time. What comes to present through past is a kind of genetic transformation. As the population never remains same, the culture never stays still.
To examine the tragic tradition, that is to say, is not necessarily to expound a single body of work and thinking, or to trace variations within an assumed totality. It is to look, critically and historically, at works and ideas which have certain evident links, and which are associated in our minds by a single and powerful word. It is, above all, to see these works and ideas in their immediate contexts, as well as in their historical continuity, and to examine their place and function in relation to other works and ideas, and to the variety of actual experience.
I shall hope to show, if only in outline, an historical development of the idea of tragedy, which may enable us to escape the deadlock of the contemporary contrast between ‘Tragedy, proper, so-called, as known from the tradition’, and the forms and pressures of our own tragic experience. What we have really to see, in what is offered to us as a single tradition, is a tension and variation so significant, on matters continually and inevitably important to us, that we gain not only relief from a contemporary deadlock, but a positive historical insight.
Williams has taken enough advantage of this style. It helps him take time to put forward the next point. It also makes his reader to get prepared for something new. And it also keeps a kind of suspense – without which a book of criticism may feel drier.
What he means by contemporary deadlock is perhaps the insensitivity of the people of twentieth century towards this form of literature. He may also a mean a particular set of feelings the modern people are unable to stand for.