Tragedy is plentiful in life but scarce in literature; since the 17th century the tragic drama has been in bad shape, and George Steiner now pronounces life to be extinct [in The Death of Tragedy]. Since his inquest only takes into account the theatre, it would be possible to accept his verdict and still ask whether the novel and the cinema haven't usurped what was once the playwright's territory. But although he confines his attention to the stage, Mr Steiner refers to theatrical history only in passing; his concern is with the tragic spirit itself, and its diminished role throughout Western culture.
Like all the indispensable categories of literature, tragedy is a slippery and approximate...
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