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Lessing's Creative Misinterpretation of Aristotle

Author(s): K. A. Dickson
Source: Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Apr., 1967), pp. 53-60
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association
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LESSING'S CREATIVE
MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
By
K. A. DICKSON
GERMAN
life and letters in the earlier
eighteenth century
were
dominated
almost
exclusively by
French influences. The
fragmen-
tation of the
German-speaking
world within the
clumsy
and
largely
imaginary
framework of the
Holy
Roman
Empire,
the
appalling
devasta-
tion of the
Thirty
Years
War,
and the
consequent
dearth of a
living
autochthonic cultural tradition had led German intellectuals to look to
the
impressive
achievements of Versailles as the
only
alternative to bar-
barism.
Leibniz,
the
greatest philosopher
of the German
Enlighten-
ment,
wrote in Latin and
French; Gottsched,
an ardent admirer of the
Grand
Siecle,
translated Corneille and Racine and
urged
imitation of
their
style upon
his fellow
countrymen;
Frederick the
Great,
whose in-
different French verse Voltaire had the irksome
privilege
of
correcting,
possessed
at his
palace
of Sanssouci
(itself
an imitation of
Versailles)
a
magnificent library
which contained not a
single
work in
German,
and
though
he is said to have had an
eloquent
command of German
exple-
tives,
spoke only
French at court. Yet within
twenty years
or so of the
treaty
of
Hubertusburg
the Cinderella of
European
cultures
possessed
in
Wolfgang
von Goethe
Europe's greatest lyric poet,
whose books accom-
panied Napoleon
on his
campaigns,
in Immanuel Kant a
dynamic
thinker who revolutionized Western
philosophy,
and in Friedrich
Schiller a
powerful
and
imaginative
dramatist of the first order. The
credit for this
amazing
reversal of
fortunes,
characteristic of the
impul-
sive and sometimes disastrous suddenness which the course of German
civilization has
always
taken,
must
go very largely
to one man: Gotthold
Ephraim Lessing (1729-81).
In his
vigorous campaign against
a sterile
and
purely
imitative classicism
Lessing
found an
unexpected
and wel-
come
ally
in Aristotle.
When
Lessing
was
appointed
resident critic of a new
repertory
theatre
in
Hamburg
in
1767
he was faced with a formidable but
exciting
challenge.
Two-thirds of the entire
repertoire
consisted of translations
of French
originals (ten
from Voltaire
alone)
and the rest was little more
than a
pale
imitation of their worst features.
By analysing
these
plays
in
a
regular
series of
articles,
Lessing
was able to re-educate the artistic
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54
LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
taste of the German
public
at
large.'
The ill-fated
company
did not
survive; Lessing's
criticism did. With
incomparable polemical
skill
Lessing pitched
into the
Francophile pundits
of a moribund
classicism,
exposed mercilessly
the
dramaturgical shortcomings
of Voltaire and his
imitators,
and extolled
bravely,
if
uncritically,
the
English
tradition as
one less alien to the German
temperament. Throughout
this brief but
momentous
campaign
the keenest and most destructive
weapon
in his
arsenal was Aristotle's
Poetics,
for not
only
had the
Stagirite's reputation
emerged
from the Middle
Ages
unscathed as a
literary
Euclid,
but it was
in the
lip-service paid
to his
literary dogma by
Classicism that
Lessing
found the most vulnerable
spot
in the French armour. He hit
upon
the
ingenious
idea of
undermining
the
authority
of French
Classicism,
ostensibly
based on the tenets of Aristotle's
pioneer
criticism, by
re-
interpreting
him,
and
demonstrating
the false
premises
of French
dramatic
theory.
After a number of
preliminary
skirmishes in which
Lessing
dismisses
the slavish imitation of the celebrated Unities as a cultural
anachronism,
and at the same time
defending
his classical
prot6g6 against
the
(alas
too
well-founded!) charge
of
inconsistency,2
this most bellicose of all Ger-
man critics launches his frontal attack on the bastion of
pseudo-classical
taste
by
means of a new evaluation of the
key passage
in Aristotle's
Poetics:
E0o-v o0v Tpaycp~ica 81pipFrl
ts
rp
0ECS oTwovuBcxic5
Kcl TErEtic
lEYEOS
EXOVi715,
lUPEVC)
??'6yC) XCopiS W~aKarTcp
TCOv
ElOv
v
TroYs Popiots,
8pC)vVTCrv Kcai
o0
St' dtrroyyEAhic1, St'
E~AOU
KcI
)6pou
TEpcivoUoc(
TF V T
CV
V
TOlOOTCOV roOpiTrov KaOapciV.
(vi. 2)
The discussion of this
passage
arises from
Lessing's analysis
of a de-
servedly forgotten play by
C. F. Weisse on the
subject
of Richard
III,
in
which the criminal-hero
inspires
the same kind of
spine-chilling
horror
as Corneille's
Cl6opitre
or Prussias.
Lessing
claims that Aristotle would
have
rejected
such characters on the
ground
that
they
do not evoke
what he understood
by p6pos,
which
together
with
thEoS
it was the
proper
function of
tragic
art to arouse and
purify
in the
spectator.
Despite
the fact that Corneille uses the term 'crainte' rather than the
I
Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767-9).
The most useful critical edition is that of
Otto Mann
(Stuttgart, 1958).
2
e.g.
Aristotle's
pronouncement
on the best form of
peripeteia (xiv. 19)
conflicts
with his statement that
tragedy
should end in misfortune
(xiii. 6). Lessing's argument
that A. is
speaking
of different
parts
of the
tragic plot
is somewhat
specious (Hamb.
Dram.,
chs.
37-38).
It is
probable
that our text of the Poetics is
only
a set of lecture-
notes,
in view of which it
may
well be wondered that A. did not contradict himself more
often!
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LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
55
'terreur' favoured
by
Dacier,
or even the 'horror'
adopted by
Heisius,'
Lessing
maintains that he
implies
the horrified emotional reaction to
cheap
sensationalism. He likewise
rejects
the word 'Schrecken' used
by
most German critics
(including, curiously enough, Lessing
himself in his
earlier
writings)
and defines this as 'a sudden fear which takes the
spec-
tator
by surprise'.2
The
only
valid German translation is 'Furcht' and
Lessing
refers to Aristotle's
categorical rejection
of the out-and-out
villain as a feasible
type
in
tragedy:
o0,'
c -rTv aoq~6pa TrovlppOv
E
EO'?
X)(ia
E
vUOT-ru)(icav
PrETcrrriTrrElv T-r
piv
y&p piAxv0pco-rrov EXoit
v
i
T"rotoaJrrl
o-ractS
&x'AA' OJ-rTE
EAEOV
Oj-rTE
p6qOV,
0 EV
yp
TrEpi T-OV
avc'ai6v
~o
-riv
~TuaruXov-ra, 06
6E
TEpi
TOV
O6PolOV, EAEOs
Egv
TrEpi
TorV avaitov,
y6po
3o5
6
TrEpi
TOV
O6olOV,
CO-TE OlTE
AEE1VV
oOrTE (poPEpOV
Eo-raT
TO
av6
Pavov.
(xiii. 4; 1453a)
Lessing
dismisses the
objection
that we do in fact fear for a villainous
character on
grounds
of common
humanity,
and
pity
his downfall for
the same reason. Fair
enough,
is
Lessing's
comment,
but this is not
what Aristotle meant
by pity
and
fear,
and should be classified under
what he termed
Tr6 ptAdxvepcorrov
('Philanthropie'),
i.e. a universal moral
sense
regardless
of
deserts,
or
'fellow-feeling
for
humanity'.3
Lessing
was
perhaps
the first to insist so
categorically
that both in
psychology
and in drama Aristotle conceived
y6pos
and
'AEOS as
correlative or even
complementary
terms. He cites the now familiar
passages
from the Rhetoric in
support
of his
argument, combining
and
paraphrasing
them as follows:
'Everything
is fearful
(= opep6v)
that would arouse our
pity
if it
were to
happen
to someone
else;
and we find
everything deserving
of
pity
(=
?AEEIv6v)
that we should fear if it were in store for
us.'4
Les-
sing's conclusion,
revolutionary
for the
eighteenth century,
is that
p6poS
must be taken
exclusively
with the
phrase
TTrEpi TOv
6~oov and
repre-
sents an
empathetic
or vicarious fear for the
sufferer,
as for oneself. In
full: 'It is the fear which derives from our
similarity
with the
suffering
'Per misericordiam et horrorem eorundem
expiationem
affectuum inducit'
(1611).
2
'Eine pl6tzliche, iiberraschende
Furcht'
(ch. 74,
ed.
cit., p. 291).
3 G. F.
Else,
Aristotle's Poetics: the
argument (Harvard, 1957), 369.
4
Rhet.
(ii. 5. Iz; 1382b:
ii. 8.
13; 1386a). Lessing
refers
particularly
to the sentence
WFs
8'
ATrxcs
tXS
EiT ,
<popEpo -crty,
oa
iT-rpov YIyv6O'EVa
"
?XAAov-ra, ~tEE1V go-TrV
(ii. 5. 12),
and draws attention to a curious mistranslation
by
Aemilius Portus of
1598,
which
reads
'denique
ut simpliciter loquar,
formidabilia
sunt, quaecumque
simulac in
aliorum
potestatem venerunt,
vel ventura
sunt,
miseranda sunt'.
Lessing
corrects
the Latin to
'quaecunque
simulac aliis
evenerunt,
vel eventura sunt'.
Lessing's
German version runs: 'Alles das ist uns
furchterlich, was,
wenn es einem andern
begegnet
wire,
oder
begegnen sollte,
unser Mitleid
erwecken
wirde:
und alles das
finden wir
mitleidswiirdig,
was wir
fiirchten wiirden,
wenn es uns selbst bevor-
stiinde' (ed. cit. p. 295).
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56
LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
character,
for ourselves;
it is the fear that the misfortunes we see
brought
upon
him
might
befall us ourselves. In
short,
this fear is
pity
related to
ourselves.'
(Hamburgische Dramaturgie,
ch.
75. My italics.)
Modern
scholarship
has
largely supported Lessing's finding
on this
score. Thus Butcher defines Aristotelian
p6pos
as 'the
sympathetic
shudder we feel for a hero whose character in its essentials resembles our
own';
and Else
says
of
E'AEos:
'The whole sentiment of
pity
is based on
a sense of
kinship
with the
person
who
suffers', taking 6Potos
to
imply
'a
normal
representative
human
being'.'
This
interpretation,
like that of
Kxcraapcis,
relies on the basic
assump-
tion
that,
despite
Brecht, Wilder,
and other
anti-Aristotelians,
the
self-identification of the
spectator
with the
tragic
sufferer is not
only
psychologically healthy,
but
emotionally
unavoidable,
an
inexplicable
but vital function of dramatic art which is as
germane
to the
witnessing
of
IiJlpoiS
as the
empathetic
antics of
spectators
at a
boxing-match.
In
emphasizing
the
similarity
of the sufferer with
ourselves, however,
Lessing undoubtedly
had an axe to
grind,
even if his discreet
suppression
of
any specific
reference to it in this context obscures the fact. In a much
earlier section
Lessing
discusses with admirable
modesty
his own
play
Miss Sara
Sampson
in the
following
terms: 'The names of
princes
and
heroes
may give
a
play pomp
and
majesty;
but
they
contribute
nothing
to the emotional effect. The misfortune of those whose circumstances are
closest to our own must of
necessity
touch us most
keenly.' (Ch. 14. My
italics.)2
The
relationship
between the words italicized and
Lessing's interpre-
tation of
63pos
is obvious. It is
particularly interesting
that in
citing
Aristotle's
description
of the heroic character he
stops
short before
being
unnecessarily
embarrassed
by
the
phrase
`v
pEydAgl
86
i
Kald E-rrXia
which would
scarcely
have
provided
Aristotelian
support
for the
bourgeois setting
of Miss Sara
Sampson!
This sensational drama had first been
staged
twelve
years
before the
Hamburg appointment
came
up,
in
1755.
It
flouted
most of the classical
rules,
and
provided
a
practical challenge
to the devotees of
Classicism,
long
before it received its theoretical vindication. It is a domestic
tragedy following
the tradition of Lillo and
Moore,
instead of Corneille
I S. H.
Butcher,
Aristotle's
theory of poetry andfine
art
(London, 1932), 259; Else,
op.
cit. 373 n. 31.
2 'Die Namen von
Fiirsten
und Helden k6nnen einem
Stiicke Pomp
und
Majestit
geben;
aber zur
Riihrung tragen
sie nichts bei. Das
Unglfick
derjenigen,
deren
Um-
stdinde den
unsrigen
am
niichsten kommen,
muB
natiirlicherweise
am tiefsten in
un-
sere Seele
dringen;
und wenn wir mit
K6nigen
1M\Iitleiden
haben,
so haben wir es mit
ihnen als mit
Menschen,
und nicht als mit
K6nigen'
(ed. cit., p. 57).
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LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
57
and Racine. It
defies, though
not
very obtrusively,
the
Unity
of
Place,
and draws its characters from the same social
range
as the
epistolary
novels of Samuel
Richardson,
whose effusive and bombastic sentimen-
tality
also affects the stilted
prose
in which the
dialogue
is couched. The
lachrymose verbosity
and strained
psychology
of the
piece
have rele-
gated
it
long
since from the
repertory
of the theatre to the less discrimi-
nating
set-book lists of courses in German
literature,
but it remains a
fascinating
and withal a
revolutionary experiment
in dramatic
form,
and
still more readable than the drames
bourgeois
of Diderot and Sedaine.
Lessing
was in fact
already
at work on its much more
powerful
successor
even whilst
writing
the
Hamburg
criticism,
and it is not unreasonable
to hazard the
guess
that the
reappraisal
of Aristotle is a
disguised apolo-
gia
for his new art-form. His new
play,
Emilia Galotti
(1772), belongs
to
the
really great
dramas of
Europe, though many
have found fault with it
as a
tragedy. Lessing
sets out to dramatize the
Virginia legend,
in which
a Roman
patrician
saved his
daughter
from
outrage
at the hands of a
lascivious Decemvir
by killing
her
himself.I
He
transposes
the
scene,
however,
from
fifth-century
Rome to
eighteenth-century Italy,
and his
contemporary
audiences had
embarrassingly
little
difficulty
in
identify-
ing
their own
political
and social scene in this thin Italianate
disguise.
The characters
speak
an unaffected
prose,
and their actions
are,
with the
debatable
exception
of the
tragic
denouement,
those of 'one like our-
selves'. There are no
heroics,
no
attitudinizing, rhetoric,
or
poetry;
but
there is
pity
and
fear,
and
awe-inspiring
sense of the lacrimae rerum. The
actual
plot
is so
closely
knit that when it
unfolds,
it does so with the in-
exorability
of
Oedipus
Rex,
though
without
perhaps
its
tragic pathos.
If not
emotionally,
it is at least
intellectually satisfying,
and it was the
pioneer
of
high
domestic
tragedy,
which was to
inspire
Schiller to write
his Kabale und
Liebe,
Hebbel his Maria
Magdalene,
and
ultimately
Ibsen,
Strindberg, Hauptmann,
Chekhov,
and Shaw to
translate
their
conception
of universal
destiny
into terms of a
decaying
middle-class
world,
where audience and action shared a common
heritage,
and where
self-identification resulted sometimes in
nausea,
sometimes in blank dis-
may,
but at its best in
self-questioning
and self-awareness.
By
his
phrase
Trrepi -r6V 6polov
Aristotle can have meant little more than what Else
calls 'a normal
representative human-being',
i.e. neither saint nor sinner.
By angling
his
interpretation
in such a
way
as to
give support
to his
theory
of domestic
tragedy Lessing paves
the
way
for the democratiza-
tion of
tragedy
which attained its non
plus
ultra
amongst
the
starving,
rebellious weavers of
Hauptmann's proletarian masterpiece,
and the still
I
Livy
iii.
44-54.
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58
LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
lower
depths
of
Gorky's
doss-house
dramaturgy.
It has been doubted
whether this is an
altogether
laudable
tendency,'
but that
Lessing's
mis-
conception
of Aristotle which led to it was creative is
beyond dispute,
for
it fathered some of the
greatest
drama in the
European repertoire.
Equally
biased, provocative,
and
productive
is
Lessing's interpretation
of Aristotle's still much-debated
KideapatS.
Purification of
what,
for in-
stance? In his Trois
Discours,
Corneille had made it
fairly
obvious that
he took the
phrase
-rCov
-roto'Trrcv
Trrao8rpdrcv
to refer not to
p6pos
and
V2EoS,
which it
plainly
does,
but to the emotions demonstrated in the
drama,
and which we must learn to avoid
by observing
the error into
which characters fall who
display
them.2
Lessing rightly rejects
this
didactic
conception
of
catharsis,
and insists on
pity
and fear as its
proper
objects.
Modern
scholarship
is
again
almost
unanimously
with him
here,
taking
Troto'rrcov
as more or less
synonymous
with
ToC'Tcov,
though
Lessing goes
on to
qualify
the
reading by paraphrasing
'all forms of
philanthropic
stimulus'.3
He
slyly suggests
that Corneille's
interpreta-
tion was a belated
attempt
to
justify
his own non-Aristotelian characters
such as
Polyeucte
and
Clopiatre,
who arouse neither
pity
nor
fear,
let
alone both
together
as Aristotle demands. In
rejecting
the traditional
view
Lessing
undermines one of the most sacred
concepts
of the En-
lightenment:
that of the theatre as a moral
institution,
where the
spec-
tators learn to avoid the sinful excesses of the hero whose misfortunes
they
have
just
witnessed. But he
replaces
it
by
one which is
infinitely
more
valuable.
Where most commentators had
adopted
a moral or
religious
view of
catharsis,
Lessing boldly
comes out in favour of the medical or
psycho-
logical
view. He claims that
tragedy
should redress the balance of
pity
and fear within the
personality
of the
spectator,
i.e. it acts as a medicinal
corrective
against
errors in either
direction.4
Since
Bernays,
Aristotelian
F. L.
Lucas,
for
instance,
laments the
passing
of heroic
tragedy
in his admirable
study Tragedy
in relation to Aristotle's Poetics
(London 1953),
117.
2 Cf.
Curtius,
who translated the last
part
of the section on catharsis 'vermittelst des
Schreckens und Mitleidens von den Fehlern
der
vorgestellten
Leidenschaften
reiniget'
(1753), (by
means of terror and
pity purges [us]
of the errors of the emotions demon-
strated).
Similar is Lillo's didactic
appeal
to the audience at the end of his domestic
tragedy
The London Merchant
(I731):
In vain
With
bleeding
hearts and
weeping eyes
we show
A humane
gen'rous
sense of others'
woe;
Unless we mark what drew their ruin
on,
And, by avoiding that, prevent
our own.
(v.
II)
3 'Alle
philanthropische Erregungen' (ch. 77,
ed.
cit., p. 304).
4 Oddly enough Lessing
is here
merely resuscitating
a
forgotten theory
of the
Italian
Renaissance, e.g.
Minturno in L'arte
poetica (1564),
see
Butcher, op. cit. 247.
Milton echoes this in his Preface to Samson
Agonistes
with the words 'to
temper
and
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LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
59
criticism has more or less
upheld
this
interpretation.'
There is little
doubt that catharsis is used as a medical
term,
and that it refers to a
draining away,
or a
re-chanelling
of
excess, though
this will of
necessity
imply purification
of the
remainder.2
This is almost
certainly
an ad
hominem
argument
to refute
Plato,
who had maintained that
'poetry
feeds
and waters the
passions
instead of
starving them'.3
This is
surely
the
original
form of the
dispute
which still
rages
over the
purpose
and
achievement of
art,
even in its most
popular guise;
educationists
argue
today
whether we sublimate or stimulate latent criminal tendencies
by
bringing 'Softly, Softly'
and the
'Saint',
within reach of
every potential
juvenile delinquent.
Aristotle maintained that such
passions
as Plato
feared are latent in the human
soul,
but that
they
can be sublimated
successfully through art,
and
particularly through tragedy,
which makes
us feel we are
actually enduring vicariously
the
sufferings
of
greater
mor-
tals,
and thus canalize the mawkish
sentimentality
and
petty panic
of
real life into the sublime
pity
and fear of
tragedy.
What
Lessing
could
not,
as a child of the
Aufkldrung,
ever have
grasped
is that to the Greek mind
pity
and fear are in themselves un-
healthy
emotions which threaten to
get
out of hand and need the
psy-
chiatric corrective of
tragedy
to
keep
them under control.
Although
Lessing
allows for the
possibility
of
correcting
an excess of either emo-
tion,
he is
really thinking
more of a
deficiency.
In a letter to his
Jewish
philosopher
friend Moses
Mendelssohn,
Lessing
states: 'It is the func-
tion of
tragedy simply
to
practise pity',
and
again:
'Without doubt the
finest character is he who has the
greatest capacity
for
pity' (1756).
It is
true that
Lessing
has
enlarged
his views on catharsis in the
meantime,
to
embrace the
concept
of
fear,
but his final definition still smacks of the
'practice' theory:
'This
purification
consists in
nothing
other than the
transformation of the emotions into virtuous
propensities.'4
Thus
reduce them to
just
measure'. Dacier also came
very
close to it in
saying 'la
tragedie
est
donc une v6ritable
medecine, qui purge
les
passions' (1692),
but went on to
apply
it in
the Cornelian tradition
by suggesting
that an over-ambitious man would learn to over-
come his
ambition,
etc.
I
Bernays'
Zwei
Abhandlungen iiber
die Aristotelische Theorie des Drama
(I857).
So
also
Gomperz, Rostagni, Gudman, Butcher, Bywater, Lucas,
etc. See
especially
Butcher, op. cit. 245 ff.,
and
Lucas, op. cit. 24.
For a different modern
approach,
how-
ever,
see
Else, op. cit. 227, 425.
2
Thus the derivative
dTroKa1i pacrai
in the sense of 'to
get
rid of'
(Tim.
Locr.
I04
B,
Xen.
Cyr.
ii. 2.
27);
but there is also
&droKac8apElv
in the sense of 'to refine
(of
metals
by smelting)' (Strabo 399).
3
-rOIt-rra [i.e.
sexual
appetites, anger etc.] i
as
?i TotlyTQIKTi PiPlICSi
pya'ET-al
TpTpEI t yap
-raira a&p85ouca,
8~ov
aoXPEiV,
Kcaa
&PXov-ra lTiV
Kao-MTrytI,
Giov
aPXEcat
a0J-rT, PEX-riov
T
-rE
KaiC Ei5tPQOVCTTEpO1 &VTi XE1p6VOVC
Kal
alcoTr~pcov ytyVCbsEea.
(Rep.
x. 606
D).
4
'Die
Verwandlung
der Leidenschaften in
tugendhafte Fertigkeiten (Hamb. Dram.,
78,
ed.
cit., p. 308).
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60
LESSING'S MISINTERPRETATION OF ARISTOTLE
Lessing
has it both
ways.
He
upholds
the now current medical
theory,
but
presents
it in a moral
form,
i.e.
our
aesthetic re-education
through
tragedy
has a moral function after
all, substantiating
what
Lessing
had
said earlier in his
critique,
that the theatre as a whole is 'die Schule der
moralischen Welt'
(ch. 2).
This is
clearly
not what Aristotle was
trying
to
say,
but it is
by
no
means
impossible
that Aristotle would
agree
with its
application
to
modern dramatic art
nevertheless,
for the
end-product
of his form of
tragedy
was the
healthy functioning
of the
personality
of the
3cj~ov
TroAT-rK6v-a
form which
surely
merited a
place
in Plato's
Utopia?
And,
after
all,
which Aristotelianism is more needed in modern
art,
Aristotle's or
Lessing's? Despite
the
organized hysteria
of Nazism or
race-hatred,
and the commercial emotionalism of the modern
teenager,
is not the most
apparent
threat to our culture
precisely
a lack of
spon-
taneous
feeling,
a
blunting
of our emotional awareness? Is there a sur-
feit or a dearth of
just
that instinctive
compassion
for the
suffering
of
others,
of
just
that fearful awe in the face of life's insoluble
enigma?
F. L. Lucas has
rightly
said: 'We
go
to
tragedies
not in the least to
get
rid of
emotions,
but to have them more
abundantly;
to
banquet,
not to
purge."
This is
clearly
an 'Aristotelianism' which modern drama has almost
entirely ignored,
much to its detriment as a social force and cultic
ritual,
both of which the
greatest
drama has
always
been from
Aeschylus
to
Brecht. In a
sense,
drama has made
Lessing's misinterpretation
of
TrEpIt rbv 6otiov
the excuse for a crass and dull
naturalism, and,
what is
sadder,
without the corrective
provided by
his much more
inspired
mis-
interpretation
of
Kd8Capcrs.
Has not our modern theatre with the
kitchen-sinks, lavatories,
and dustbins that clutter its
stage
substituted
reflection
(even
in the
distorting
mirror of the
Absurd)
for
inspiration,
by reading T-rO piap6v,
as
Lessing
accuses
Corneille,
instead of
-rO
9opEpv
? Has it
not, by unconsciously adopting
the more
academically
correct medical view of
catharsis,
offered us an emetic instead of an
elixir ?
Lessing certainly misinterpreted
his
Aristotle,
whether
wilfully
or not
is hard to
say,
but his
misinterpretation
was at least
productive
of
great
drama,
and moreover his Aristotle is still a valid critic of the modern
theatre.
F.
L.
Lucas, op.
cit.
52.
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