Tragedy and the Return of the Dead
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
Early modernity rediscovered tragedy in the dramas and the theoretical writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Attempting to make new tragic fictions, writers like Shakespeare, Webster, Hardy, Corneille, and Racine created a dramatic form that would probably have been unrecognizable to the ancient Athenians. Tragedy and the Return of the Dead recovers a model of the tragic that fits ancient tragedies, early modern tragedies, as well as contemporary narratives and films no longer called “tragic” but which perpetuate the same elements.
Authoritative, wide-ranging, and thought provoking, Tragedy and the Return of the Dead uncovers a set of interlocking plots of family violence that stretch from Greek antiquity up to the popular culture of today. Casting aside the elite, idealist view that tragedy manifests the conflict between two equal goods or the human struggle against the divine, John D. Lyons looks closely at tragedy’s staging of gory and painful deaths, ignominious burials, and the haunting return of ghosts. Through this adjusted lens Le Cid, Hamlet, Frankenstein, The Spanish Tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Phèdre, Macbeth, and other early modern works appear in a striking new light. These works are at the center of a panorama that stretches from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon to Hitchcock’s Psycho and are placed against the background of the Gothic novel, Freud’s “uncanny,” and Burke’s “sublime.”
Lyons demonstrates how tragedy under other names, such as “Gothic fiction” and “thrillers,” is far from dead and continues as a vital part of popular culture.
Chapter I: Home and hearth
Chapter II: Burial and the care of the dead
Chapter III: Specters
Chapter IV: The aesthetics of fear
Conclusion: What's in a word?
"Reading Lyons’s analyses of nineteenth-century novels and twentieth-century films, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Chris Marker’s La Jetée, is like listening to a series of virtuoso lectures." —Renaissance Quarterly
“Lyons has produced a magisterial, persuasive work about what tragedy used to be and what it perhaps still is.” —Richard Goodkin, author of How Do I Know Thee? Theatrical and Narrative Cognition in Seventeenth-Century France
"At a time when the humanities in general and seventeenth-century French studies in particular are at risk, John Lyons’ book is a vital contribution to our field because it conveys the necessity to study classical and neoclassical tragedies in order to understand the society we live in—its traditions, its rituals, its emotions . . . this is a beautifully crafted piece of scholarship which glides seamlessly from one section to the next and succeeds in highlighting the complexity of tragedy throughout the centuries." —H-France Review
"Devoid of jargon and exceedingly clear, this study persuasively illuminates the Western world's enduring depiction of and attraction for the tragic." —Hélène Bilis, French Studies
"Tragedy and the Return of the Dead makes a valuable contribution to recent reassessments of the tragic tradition. John D. Lyons's capaciously comparative study brings together a diversity of theories and fictions across periods and media. In doing so, it also charts the shift from a premodern view to contemporary perceptions of tragedy, in particular a dissociation of the tragic from events and feelings." —Marissa Greenberg, Renaissance Quarterly