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date: 20 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Tragedy is central to the Baroque because it explores the powers and limitations of sovereign will; because the changeable fortune and wretched suffering of its illustrious persons can quiet our will to live; and because it takes the measure of humankind in relation to God and an indifferent Nature. Because the Baroque was not an early modern aesthetic category, we can encounter it only through the mediation of later critical theories and aesthetic judgments. This article therefore charts three constellations that come into focus when seen through the right lens. Baroque tragedy in the grand style is best viewed through Wölfflin’s account of the Baroque as a Will-to-Form. Tasso’s Il re Torrismondo and Milton’s Samson Agonistes illustrate it. The Trauerspiel was described by Benjamin in 1928. It owes more to the Mysteries and to Seneca than it does to Attic tragedy. It inhabits the ruins of history but displays a melancholy desire to transform those ruins into emblems. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Simons’s Zeno, and Calderón’s Il principe constante figure in this constellation. The third constellation relies on plot and on a pellucid rhetoric that is liable to crack under stress in order to chart the changing passions of its persons against a Cartesian grid, thus producing what Rapin identifies as the sole pleasure of tragedy: “the Soul is Shaken …; its Trouble pleases, and the Emotion it finds, is a kind of Charm to it.” Racine’s Iphigénie (1674) exemplifies the regular Baroque.

Keywords: allegory, Walter Benjamin, John Milton, Samson Agonistes, Passions, Jean Racine, Iphigénie, William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Joseph Simons, Zeno, Torquato Tasso, Il re Torrismondo, tragedy, Henirich Wölfflin

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