Tragedy! Modern Fanfare For The Common Man

25 Mar

The past week’s discussion on Tragedy was definitely more for me than for you. Most of what i learned and ruminated on were not put down in these posts, as i would research, write and only afterwards, at night, really sit and reflect. Yet by forcing myself to write these few posts i made myself  research and ultimately reflect on these matters, which has been enormously healthy for myself, the work process, and hopefully the show.

And thus we come to modern tragedy.

As you can imagine, in the advent of democracy, marxism, individualism, socialism, and liberalism (fyi, the classic  definition of liberalism is NOT the same as the political affiliation of “a liberal”. Liberalism insists on limited democratic government, free market and trade, and liberty and self reliance of the individual),  the biggest change that has been waiting to happen all these centuries is in the idea that Tragedy must befall someone of high stature. In the late 19th and early 20th century the cause of ‘The Common Man’ became central.

Tragedy became more down to earth. Instead of a sweeping grandeur, it became far more intimate, with the wide scope of devastation in the inner life of the protagonist.

In modern tragedy, in place of the gods and fate conspiring to destroy the protagonist,  usually society is now used. Society, the State, the System, conventional culture… matched of course by the Fatal Flaw within the character themselves.

‘The Doll’s House’ is a play by Henrik Ibsen, in which a woman in a conventional marriage and gender role, has her life gradually unravel beginning with her attempt to repay a loan, and eventually becomes more self aware and becomes unable to continue her life and leaves her husband and family. It is often considered one of the first true modern tragedies, although this is argued over incessantly. For one thing, although the lead character loses her life as she knows it, she is not necessarily worse off, but could very well be considered more liberated and better off at the play’s end than at the beginning.

death of a salesmanAnother play, ‘Death Of A Salesman’ by Arthur Miller, is also considered one of the great modern tragedies. It fits the bill better, and is indeed a devastating play that will depress the living crap out of you. We see the  lead character, a travelling salesman, reflect on his life, which is a pathetic existence that gets more and more pathetic until the end when he kills himself in part to help his son get enough money to start a business. Which the son doesn’t. And the salesman is practically unmourned except by his wife.

Trust me, if you see a really good production of this play, you will want to take a gun to your head. After the very first performance back in 1949, the audience just sat in absolute silence. No applause, not a noise. Gradually some patrons got up, walked around and talked to each other, then just sat down again.

And of course we all know A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennesee Williams. Tennesee Williams, Eugine O’Neil, both are considered writers of  quinessential modern reagedy.

But i am going to throw out my pick for Great Modern Tragedy.

The moment i wrote the words “The Common Man” i immediately thought of Barton Fink. The more i thought about it, the more Barton Fink fits as quintessential modern tragedy.

Barton is a common enough guy. He start off the movie in good shape, hired to write his first screenplay for Hollywood, and ends the movie completely screwed, including the death of his parents. Hell, he’s carrying around his mother’s decapitated head. That’s pretty damn tragic right there. He followed his vision and did what he thought was right, and was completely screwed by mixture of forces more powerful them him, the studio exec and motherfucking John Goodman (society and the wrathful gods), and his own douchebagness.

Yeah, i submit Barton Fink as Great Modern Tragedy.

One last thing.

One way in which i wish the Steampunk Opera to subvert modern tragedy standards is that the City in which my protagonists live is a vastly important part of the drama. It’s portrayal is a key part of the show.

However, instead of conventional modern tragedy in which the City (society)  is a the key factor in the protagonist’s downfall,  each protagonist in each of the Acts, through their fatal flaws and choices, is instead the key factor in the CITY’S downfall.

Little reversal there… trust me it’ll be awesome.

Okay, gotta give my son a bath. I had a great week researching this and as said, it has been fantastically productive in my consideration of what i’m trying to do with The Steampunk Opera.

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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


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