David Hume - Of Tragedy

Was reading this dissertation by David Hume (originally published in 1757) for some essay preparation. Hume's overall position is rather Aristotelian, which makes sense for his time; he sees tragedy as an imitation of an action which evokes pity and fear. But Hume adds to the conversation on this subject, by investigating how this pity and fear is evoked. His main question is to do with why tragedy has an impact on us, and in investigating this he engages with previous thinkers on the subject. His conclusion is that eloquence is the key; the way the poet (playwright) presents the text, particularly the violent or damaging incidents which cause passion in the reader or audience (pity & fear, if you want to be Aristotelian) and is the cause of the passions elicited. Further to this point, he notes that there is (as many before him have posited) a pleasure derived from this, emphasizing that eloquence is the key to this pleasure. If the violence is not presented in a beautiful way, harmonized within itself as a work of art, we will only have experienced the passions of pity and fear, and pleasure is not possible. He argues that this, then, is not art...it cannot be distinguished from any daily occurrence of violence in the world.

Although I'm not much of an Aristotelian purist, I have to agree with Hume's assertion about eloquence. When we think of the pieces that really move us; Othello, Hamlet, The Duchess of Malfi, and more recently Beckett, Kane, Bond...what causes them to work, cause our passion to be aroused, and most importantly, to make us think, is eloquence. The beauty of presentation of these horrific acts.

Something to keep in mind for presenting violence in theatre.