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Ceremonial Theater and Tragedy from French Classicism to German Classicism


This essay investigates tragic theater from French classicism to German classicism in relation to the ritualized ceremonies and spectacles of the early modern state, which I summarily refer to as ceremonial theater. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, the relationship between tragedy and ceremonial theater went through four major phases: 1) sponsored by the state, tragedy was initially continuous with ceremonial theater; 2) finding a new source of the tragic in the implacable conflict between public sovereign power and insistent desires of the royal flesh, Racine created a tragic theater that contested ceremonial theater; 3) after Racine, ceremonial theater and tragedy moved in sharply diverging directions, with the former falling into a steady decline and the latter turning towards the sentiments and concerns of private persons; 4) in German classicism, especially in Schiller's classical dramas, ceremonial theater and tragedy were joined together again—by means of the appropriation of ceremonial theater by the tragic stage. Now the tragic stage established itself as an autonomous realm of the imagination, in which the moribund ceremonial theater came back to life. In the course of these centuries, the aesthetics of tragedy had changed, while the political world witnessed dramatic transformations. A study of European tragic theater in relation to political rituals during this eventful period, therefore, provides a new perspective on the interaction between aesthetics and politics.

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