George Steiner Richard Gilman - Essay

Richard Gilman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Near the end of The Death of Tragedy] George Steiner expresses a credo that might more serviceably have appeared at the beginning. "I believe that literary criticism has about it neither rigour nor proof," he writes. "Where it is honest, it is passionate, private experience seeking to persuade."…

Mr. Steiner is no literary sociologist or patriot, nor is he a Houseman poised at his mirror ready to slice his throat at the memory of some devastating line. You will find here almost as close a reading of texts as is being performed at Chicago or Gambier, Ohio.

You will also find as brilliant, thorough and concerned a contemplation of the nature of dramatic art as has appeared in many years. Steiner doesn't have a profoundly original thesis, which along with the self-imposed limitation on his subject—there is scarcely any discussion of comedy—keeps me from placing his book in the company of such ur-works of recent drama criticism as Eric Bentley's Playwright as Thinker, Francis Fergusson's Idea of a Theater and H.D.F. Kitto's Form and Meaning in Drama, but The Death of Tragedy seems to me to rank not far below.

Steiner starts from the obvious fact that there has been no high tragic art since Corneille and Racine and the Elizabethans, and from the only slightly less evident truth that the history of the drama since then has been largely a simultaneous flight from the tragic and an unending attempt to resurrect it….

[Steiner's] chief premise is that what gave the death-blow to tragic drama was the great change in Western habits of...

(The entire section is 675 words.)