TRAGEDY AND SOCIAL EVOLUTION by Eva Figes

TRAGEDY AND SOCIAL EVOLUTION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This study by British novelist (Ghosts, 1988, etc.) and literary critic (Sex and Subterfuge, 1988, etc.) Figes was just as derivative and simplistic when it was first published in 1976 in England as it is now. Figes argues intensely for two obvious propositions that are not only commonplaces in drama history but are also philosophically irreconcilable: that the meaning of tragedy as an art form depends on the social and historical context in which it was created; and that the basis of drama is in religious ritual that comes to serve political ends. Disregarding at least a century of dramatic scholarship and criticism, Figes takes great pride in supporting these propositions with some superficial and half-understood concepts drawn from sociology, psychology, folklore, and anthropology. In one chapter each, she explores kingship, death, women, and hierarchy and order--themes or topics that she considers to be characteristic of drama, especially in aboriginal plays, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and whoever else comes to mind. But she makes no distinction among the cultural significances, the social contexts, or the aesthetic values of the plays, and shows little insight into what they mean beyond providing illustrations for her discussion. Oversimplified interpretations are presented in a tone that is variously breezy, trendy, or vulgar, offering, for example, Macbeth ""in a nutshell,"" or asserting that in Oedipus ""incest taboos"" have ""nothing whatsoever to do with the fear of fucking one's own mother,"" though she never explains what they are related to. Although a professed feminist, her position is embarrassing, exclusive, and narrow-minded, for she claims that women succeed in the performing arts only as sexual objects, an unjust disregard of the great and successful actresses in history as well as the present. What does the ""social evolution"" in the title have to do with anything in the book? What do the various themes Figes discusses have to do with each other, with religious ritual, or even with drama? Why does she choose these themes and not others? What, finally, is the point of the book, and for whom was it written?

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1990
Publisher: Persea--dist. by Braziller