Theories of Tragedy

Most people are familiar with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, but other theories are equally relevant to the question of politics in Shakespeare, most notably Hegel’s. Here are some important writings about theories of tragedy.

Seth Benardete and Michael Davis, trans., Aristotle: On Poetics (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002)—a very accurate translation, with good notes on the meaning of Greek terms

A. C. Bradley, “Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy,” in Oxford Lectures on Poetry (London: MacMillan, 1909), 69-95—a readable introduction to the subject by a great Shakespeare critic

Stephen Halliwell, The Poetics of Aristotle: translation and commentary (Chapel Hill:University of North Carolina Press, 1987)—another good translation, with detailed and helpful commentary

Stephen Halliwell, Aristotle’s Poetics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986)—a comprehensive commentary on the Poetics

Walter Kaufmann, Tragedy and Philosophy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969)—a good survey of philosophical theories of tragedy

José Ortega y Gasset, “A Short Treatise on the Novel,” Meditations on Quixote, trans. Evelyn Rugg and Diego Marín (New York: W. W. Norton, 1961), sections 15 (hero), 17 (tragedy), 18 (comedy), and 19 (tragicomedy)—a little-known but brilliant analysis of the subject, with particular insight into the difference between tragedy and comedy

Anne and Henry Paolucci, eds., Hegel: On Tragedy (New York: Harper & Row, 1962)—a comprehensive collection of Hegel’s writings and lectures on tragedy (in English translation); the volume also reprints the above A.C. Bradley essay

Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, ed., Essays on Aristotle’s Poetics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992)—a good collection of critical essays on the Poetics, several from a philosophical perspective

Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece (New York: Zone, 1988), especially chapters 1 and 2, “The Historical Moment of Tragedy in Greece” and “Tensions and Ambiguities in Greek Tragedy,” 23-48, and chapter 11, “The Tragic Subject,” 437-47