I’m pleased that a review I had almost forgotten writing is featured as one of the ‘free-on-line’ essays in the current edition of the august Prospect magazine. If you’re interested you can read the full 2,000-word version here. The book is The Tragic Imagination and it will cause a stir because it is by Rowan Williams, the controversial and uber-intellectual former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
|The Brainiest Archbishop Ever|
There have of course been historical attempts to subject Greek tragedy to cosmetic surgery which reduces its ferocity to force it into conformity with a Christian outlook. Neoclassical tragedy regularly made Medea kill herself at the end of her play or turned suffering virgins like Iphigenia and Antigone into proto-Christian nuns and martyrs. In one spectacular Christian reading, Lee Breuer’s 1988 Broadway musical Gospel at Colonus, Oedipus was indeed implausibly ‘redeemed’ by a rousing African-American Pentecostal singalong.
|Sophocles' Oedipus Gets Christian Redemption at Colonus|
His analysis can never do justice to the Greeks’ uncompromising honesty about (1) the unfairness of a life in which good people suffer and evil people die comfortably in expensive beds, (2) the excruciating pain endured by so many humans during their brief years of consciousness alive, and (3) the pleasure as well as the moral education bestowed by watching beautiful theatre in which suffering is talked about in exquisite poetry.
|Astyanax dragged to Trojan Wall. Can Christianity Explain it?|
Often the good or bad luck in the plays (not in Aristotle) is caused by the partisanship of a childish god. Phaedra was the unwitting victim of collateral damage caused by her stepson's irreverence towards Aphrodite. But Greek tragedy is littered with innocents who suffer and die with no god intervening to help, just like human history.
|Helen Faucit as a Christian Victorian Antigone|