TRAGIC DRAMA AND HUMAN CONFLICT -Literature and Arts A-35
Fall Semester, 1987

Bennett Simon, MD, Dept. Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

I. Goals and Themes of the Course:

     The goal of this course is to show the value of using psychoanalytic perspectives as a way of enhancing our appreciation of tragic drama. We will focus on a particular aspect of the content of tragic drama, namely, as a study of the family at war with itself. We will discuss several aspects of questions of form in tragic drama, including the nature and fate of storytelling within the plays and the characteristics of tragic dialogue. A secondary goal is to show the value of tragic drama for enhancing our understanding of psychoanalysis.
     The works selected are written by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill and Samuel Beckett. We will also study the Book of Job, a story where God gratuitously slays Job's children, from the perspective of whether or not it is a tragic drama. An additional play will be selected by each student by either Euripides, Ibsen, Arthur Miller, or Sophocles. In general these works deal with terrible deeds done by family members to each other, deeds of betrayal and murder, especially the killing of children by parents. We will view tragic drama as posing the question about how the family at war with itself can propagate and rear children. Our assumption is that tragic drama teaches us profound lessons about the continuity of the family and about what holds it together by showing us how it may be torn apart.
     The aspect of psychoanalysis that will be most important is how family relationships become internalized over the course of development, and of how these internal representations become enacted and repeated. Much of what we study falls under the rubric of the repetition of trauma, the compulsion to repeat with the next generation what has been inflicted on oneself. We shall try to understand the notions of the tragic hero and of tragic knowledge as attempts to transcend the painful and destructive inter-generational transmission of trauma.
     We shall discuss questions of the relationship between form and content in tragic drama, examining, for instance, how the skilled dramatist constructs dialogues that kill, maim, prevent conception and destroy life even before it is born. We shall argue that tragic drama from antiquity to the present progressively becomes more concerned about how narrative and story-telling can at all survive. If there will be no more children to whom and for whom one tells stories, what is the fate of stories?
     While treating tragic drama as a genus and a genre, we attempt to characterize psychological differences among ancient, Shakespearean and modern plays. The Book of Job will allow us to discuss whether or not tragic qualities are inextricably bound to the dramatic form. We shall also briefly consider, in relation to the works of O'Neill and Beckett, how knowledge of the life of the playwright may or may not enhance our understanding of the form and content of the plays.
     The core of the course is the close reading of the plays. Via lecture and reading, certain psychoanalytic concepts will be presented, concepts deriving mainly from the work of Freud, but also from later analysts, such as Winnicott, Fairbairn, Kohut and Lacan. The emphasis will be on psychoanalytic approaches as a way of sensitizing one's reading of the text and expanding our appreciation, not as a way of reducing these works to one or another complex. Therefore, a prior knowledge of psychoanalysis is not a prerequisite, but a lively curiosity and willingness to try out new ways of thinking are prerequisites.


Lecture Schedule and Topics (Friday lectures marked by *)

1-9/21-Tragedy & Psychoanalysis
2-9/23 Psychoanalysis--Basic definitions
3-9/28 Introd. to Greek Tragedy--Epic and Tragedy
4-9/30 Aeschylus, The Oresteia
5-10/5 " " "
6-10/7 " " "
7-10/14 Psychoanalytic Concepts--The Oedipus Complex and Development
8-10/19-Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
9-10/21-
10-10/26-Psychoanalytic Concepts: Pathological Grief: Narcissistic Rage
11-10/28-Shakespeare, King Lear
*12-10/30- " " "
13-11/2 " " "
14-11/4-Shakespeare, Macbeth
15-11/9 " " "
16-11/16 Psychoanalytic Concepts-Repetition of Trauma; Character
17-11/18-Introd. to modern tragedy: O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night
18-11/23 " " "
19-11/25 " " "
20-11/30 Psychoanalytic Concepts: Schizoid Dilemmas; Childhood Trauma
21-12/2-Beckett's Endgame
22-*12/4 " " "
23-12/7 " " "
24-12/9-The Book of Job -- What is Tragedy?
25-12/14 " " "
26-12/16 " " "
27-1/6/88-Review Lecture: Psychoanalytic Concepts

Required texts (all are in paperback, ordered at Coop)

Aeschylus, The Oresteia, transl. R. Lattimore (from Grene and Lattimore, eds, The Complete Greek Tragedies University of Chicago)

Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays, trans. R. Fagles,; introd. by B. Knox, 1982, Penguin

Shakespeare, King Lear Signet Classic, 1963, New American Library

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Signet Classic, 1963

O'Neill, Eugene, Long Day's Journey into Night, Yale University Press

Beckett, Samuel, Endgame and Act Without Words, 1958, Grove Press.

The Book of Job. Revised Standard Version of the Bible (or any of the standard versions, i.e., the Bible you own.)

Textbooks:
Nemiah, John, Foundation of Psychopathology 1961, Oxford Univ. Press

Simon, Bennett, More than Kin, Less than Kind: Psychoanalytic Studies on Tragic Drama and the Family (available as a xerox copy through the Core Office)

Readings in the Sourcebook

Alter, R., "Truth and Poetry in the Book of Job"

Barber, C.L., "The Family in Shakespeare's Development: Tragedy and Sacredness"

Bettleheim, B, excerpt from: Freud and Man's Soul.

Chevigny, B.G. "Introduction" to: Twentieth Century Interpretations of Endgame: A Collection of Critical Essays.

Fraiberg, S., "Ghosts in the Nursery: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Problems of Impaired Infant-Mother Relationship,"

Freud, S
(i) excerpt from Contributions to the Psychology of Love
(ii) excerpt from, The Interpretation of Dreams
(iii) "The Theme of the Three Caskets"; (iv) "Those Wrecked by Success"

Fuchs, E., "The Death of Character"

Hamilton, J.W., "Early Trauma, Dreaming and Creativity: The Work of Eugene O'Neill"

Kahn, C.J., "The Milking Babe and Bloody Man in Coriolanus and Macbeth" (in: Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare)

Kott, J., "King Lear or Endgame"

Krutch, J.W., "The Tragic Fallacy"

Segal, C., excerpts from: "Oedipus Tyrannus" in Tragedy and Civilization


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