Tragedy as a genre invokes images of Ancient Greek dramas depicting moral dilemmas and the downfall of great men, or of Shakespearian romances doomed to end in failure and death. When considering tragedy’s place in French theatre, we can see a dominance of tragic works in the classical period of the 17th century, and works by Corneille and Racine dominated the theatre.
However, with the progression of the years, we can identify a dramatic shift in theatre, and tragedy itself has evolved in French theatre; still abundantly present in contemporary works, tragedy’s form and structure has altered. This essay will explore the traditional forms of a tragedy from its ancient roots, and consider how ‘tragedy of language’ is manifested in classical and contemporary French theatre.
Jean Racine’s Phedre, is a widely accepted classical French tragedy, based on a subject from Greek mythology, in this play, we can see an objective tragedy, but with further consideration, we can identify that the tragedy is manifested in the language of the play. With the development of avant-garde theatre in France, came Eugene Ionesco and later, Bernard-Marie Koltes.
Ionesco and Koltes have both referred to their works as ‘tragedy of language’, and this essay will examine Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Koltes’ Black Battles With Dogs to explore the ways in which language can manifest itself and how it can become the direct root of the disastrous events that form a tragic play. Language is the fundamental tool of any dramatist, and tragedy is a pillar of French theatre to this day, but what can so often be overlooked, is the integral role that language plays, not only in communicating the tragedy of a play, but often as the root cause of the tragic events themselves.
My Work Experience Week I travelled to France for my work experience to improve my French whilst gaining some valuable experience in the world of work. I left for France from Portsmouth on Friday arriving early on the Saturday morning. I had an enjoyable weekend; getting to know my host family, speaking French, and having a welcome break from schoolwork. I commenced working on Monday morning at 8 ...
The genre of tragedy is an ancient one, however, to effectively classify any theatre as a ‘tragedy of language’, first the term tragedy must be defined. Every work of tragedy involves ‘conflict’; “ ‘Tragedy’ represents any play in which the conflicts are necessarily insoluble, whereas a ‘drama’ is any play in which the conflicts are solved. ”1 This ‘conflict’ is almost always as a result of contact with ‘Otherness’; in Racine’s Phedre, it is the contact Phaedra makes with ‘the Other’ (Hippolytus) which ultimately leads to the conflict and fatality of the play.
However in more and more examples of contemporary theatre, we can identify language as a base cause for much conflict; through a breakdown in communication, the use of language as a weapon and the communication of characters with ‘the Other’. ‘Otherness’ is a third, integral element of all tragedy. ‘The Other’ defines any element outside of the ego of a character; Phaedra represents ‘otherness’ to Hippolytus, Alboury represents ‘the Other’ to Horn and Cal, and the Rhinoceritis takes the form of ‘otherness’ to Berenger in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.
Any contact or communication between the tragic heroes and ‘otherness’ will lead to conflict, which in turn aids the fulfillment of the fatal destiny of the tragic heroes. Having defined the basic necessities of tragedy, we can see the multitude of ways that language can be the creator of tragedy. A breakdown of communication, the use of language as a weapon and communication with ‘the Other’ are all ways in which language can become the root cause of tragedy and there are a multitude of examples throughout the history of French theatre which draw upon this ‘tragedy of language’.
As earlier set out, one of the key defining elements of a tragic work is “The Other”. In Racine’s play, communicating with ‘The Other’ is the cause of conflict, language becomes a weapon when dealing with ‘Otherness’’; in Phedre, ‘The Other’ is represented as love – Phaedra’s sinful love is the primary source and leads to her interactions with Hippolytus and Theseus which are the main sources of conflict in the play.
An individual’s response to conditions of internal and external conflict is effectively explored throughout drama. In Hamlet, Shakespeare delves into the themes of appearance versus reality, lies versus deceit, rejection versus self doubt and tragedy, and in which doing so, challenges the state of humanity in the Elizabethan society. In order to explore these themes, however, he uses several forms ...
Phaedra confronts ‘The Other’ in Hippolytus when she communicates her love to him; as a result, her words act as weapons, they create conflict in the relationship between her and Hippolytus, and internal conflict for Hippolytus himself. Barthes comments; “Conflict is basic in Racine. It is never merely a conflict of love that sets two beings in opposition. The essential relation is one of authority, love serves only to reveal it. 2 In Phedre, the communication of love creates the conflict in the relationships between characters; Phaedra’s love creates conflict between her and Hippolytus, and between Hippolytus and Theseus, and further, Hippolytus’ love for Aricia has the potential to create conflict between himself and Theseus. In Black Battles, ‘The Other’ is represented much more literally; by Alboury, and by extension, the black community.
As we have seen in Phedre, communication with ‘otherness’ always leads to conflict, and conflict is the driving force of any tragedy. A fine example of the conflict resulting from contact with ‘otherness’ occurs in Scene Four, where we are introduced to Horn and Alboury’s opposing world views “For Horn, a man is worth what he can achieve when alive; for Alboury, he takes his place in the natural cycle of the unborn, the living and the dead. 3 This opposition sets up the entire conflict that occurs in the play between Alboury and Horn; Alboury has come for his brother’s body and will not sway from this position where Horn, knowing the body cannot be found, refuses to give the body to Alboury and a conflict rages between the two characters on this point, until Horn finally reveals the truth, which spawns to conflict between Alboury and Cal which will untimately lead to Cal’s death.
In Horn’s communication with ‘otherness’, the tragic conflict and eventual fatal end of Cal is created and fulfilled, demonstrating how Koltes drew upon a ‘tragedy of language’ to construct the tragedy of his play. The other encounter with ‘The Other’ that occurs in the play also ends in conflict and tragedy; Leonie’s interactions with Alboury; “Leonie is very different, though sharing something with Alboury. She is a ‘poor white’ flown out from France at Horn’s expense and for his entertainment…
The Report on Conflict in Communication Between Teenagers and Parents and Learning How to Build Stronger Relationships
Conflict in Communication between Teenagers and Parents and Learning How to Build Stronger Relationships The purpose of this paper is to determine the conflicts of parent/teenager communication and to develop a b better understanding from parents’ standpoint. Teenage years can be difficult for many families. Because I can personally relate to this situation I would like to analyze the relationship ...
As an Alsacienne, she has also learned to communicate in a second language (German) and her solution to Alboury speaking Woloff is to speak german with him. ”4 Upon her first encounter with ‘The Other’ through Alboury, there does not appear to be a creation of conflict for Leonie, but as the play moves forward, what becomes evident is how ‘otherness’ has revealed to Leonie her oppression at the hands of Horn and thus creates an inner conflict and her infatuation with Alboury is born.
Further as each subsequent encounter between Leonie and ‘otherness’ occurs, her inner conflict builds as she strays further from Horn and the conflict culminates in an outward conflict between Alboury and Leonie; Leonie delivers an elaborate declaration of love and devotion to Alboury and he brutally rejects her “LEONIE:… Your village will be mine, your language will be mine, your earth will be my earth and I’ll follow you even into your dreams and beyond death, I swear, I’ll still be with you…..
ALBOURY: Demal fale doomu xac bi! (He spits in Leonie’s face. )” 5 This translates as “I wouldn’t bother with you! ” and this use of language is a direct cause of the tragic end of Leonie’s character; her communication with ‘otherness’ ultimately leads to her sacrifice of her face, “When Leonie, in scene sixteen, scarifies her cheeks, she is partly expressing the feelings of worthlessness imposed upon her by the men, but also a desire for escape into a different condition. 6 Communication with ‘The Other’ in Black Battles, whether it be between Horn and Alboury or Leonie and Alboury, is another manifestation of the ‘tragedy of language’, as we can clearly see that any communication between a character and ‘the other’ will lead to the creation of conflict. In Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, the same system occurs; the ‘rhinoceritis’ represents ‘The Other’, and it is the characters’ communication with this ‘otherness’ that creates the conflicts of the play, and leads to the inescapable fatality of the tragedy.
Initially, all characters experience conflict as a result of their interactions with the Rhinoceroses; Jean and Berenger come to conflict in Act One; “JEAN [to Berenger]: What me? You dare to accuse me of talking nonsense?… BERENGER [To Jean]: Yes, absolute, blithering nonsense!… JEAN [to Berenger]: I’ve never talked nonsense in my life!… BERENGER [to Jean, continuing]: … and what’s more, a pedant who’s not certain of his facts because in the first place it’s the Asiatic rhinoceros with only one horn on its nose, and it’s the African with two… The other characters leave the Housewife and crowd round Jean and Berenger who argue at the top of their voices. ]”7 This conflict comes as a result of the appearance of the Rhinoceroses and the character’s interactions with this ‘Other’. Further, more conflict arises as a result of ‘The Other’ infiltrating the characters’ lives in Act Two, Scene One, wherein Botard and Dudard argue over the existence of the Rhinoceros, and finally, the most poignant conflict occurs in Act Three; the internal conflict that afflicts Berenger, the only human being left; “BERENGER:…
Some children find it difficult to understand what has been said to them, form words and construct sentences, find the right words to express thoughts and feelings, and understand rules for social interaction and conversation. 2. Explain how speech, language, and communication skills support each of the following areas In children’s development. Learning, emotional, behaviour and social. Learning ...
I’m gone past changing. I want to, I really do, but I can’t, I just can’t! I can’t stand the sight of me. I’m too ashamed! [He turns his back on the mirror. ] I’m so ugly! People who try to hang on to their individuality always cine to a bad end! [He suddenly snaps out of it. ] Oh well, too bad! I’ll take on the whole of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating! ”8 In Berenger, we see that his communication with ‘otherness’ results in an inner conflict which leads to his tragic destiny – his isolation as the only human being left.
The other characters of the play all meet tragic, ‘fatal’ ends’, however, their fate is a different ‘death’; they communicate with ‘The Other’ in their acceptance of the ‘rhinoceritis’ and in this acceptance, they metamorphose and their death is metaphorical; they lose their humanity, so their tragic destiny is fulfilled in this ‘death of humanity’. The ‘tragedy of language’ appears in this communication with ‘Otherness’ once again, as in doing so, the characters fulfill their tragic destinies.
In all three plays, characters struggle to communicate with ‘the other’ and inevitably fail to communicate effectively, but it is not only communication with ‘otherness’ that creates the essential conflicts; lack of communication often produces the same results. Silence, or non-communication, presents a root problem in the plays. As Barthes notes, regarding Phedre; “We are dealing with a silence tormented by the notion of its own destruction. Phaedra is her silence; to break this silence is to die, but also to die can only mean having spoken. 9 The tragedy of Phaedra herself is manifest in language; through non-communication, Phaedra is suffering a slow and tormented death, she has not communicated her guilt so she is suffering, unable to find peace in death. When she finally does communicate her guilt to Theseus, she can finally die; “PHAEDRA: … But first I wished to clear my victim’s name. I wished, revealing my remorse to you, to choose a slower road down to the dead. ”10 Phaedra’s silence is her tormentor, in breaking it, she can die with some peace.
Communication And Conflict 1. Discuss the relationship between communication and destructive and constructive conflict. Specifically, address the role communication plays in each type of conflict. According to Bll and Blakny ( 1977), intrprsonal conflict may b dfind as intraction btwn prsons xprssing opposing intrsts, viws, or opinions. This dfinition idntifis intrprsonal conflict as a form of ...
Non-communication is also the creator of Hippolytus’ tragedy; his non-communication of Phaedra’s sin, is where his tragic end is born; “Hippolytus: Rightly indignant at so black a lie, I ought, my lord, to let the truth speak out, But I shall not resolve this mystery, Out of the deep respect that seals my lips. ”11 Hippolytus’ refusal to speak of Phaedra’s guilt marks the beginning of his ultimate destruction. The non-communication, the silence of these two characters, Phaedra and Hippolytus, is where the tragedy of this play lies.
We see further examples of ‘non-communication’ creating conflicts in Koltes’ Black Battles; In almost every moment of communication, we can see a profound ‘non-communication’, for every word that is said, there is vital information that is left unsaid. This breakdown in communication leads to and develops the conflicts of the tragedy. The initial example of this breakdown in communication is in Cal and Horn’s failure to reveal the whereabouts of the dead man’s body.
Through this non-communication, the initial and prevalent conflict of the play is born, the conflict that will lead to Cal’s demise; the issue of the return of the dead man’s body. “Conflict leads to an almost total breakdown in communication in many of Koltes’ plays. Very little understanding between characters is shown. They often speak in soliloquies whilst interlocutors remain silent. They fail to respond. Koltes shows the inability of people to communicate. 12 Furthermore, there is a glaring display of non-communication between Leonie and Horn; Horn has proposed to Leonie and shipped her out to Africa, but she has not been prepared for what she is met with or what is expected of her. Her initial refusal to leave her room is invariably down to her uncertainty as to what is expected of her. In this breakdown of communication, the tragedy of Leonie’s fate is born and fulfilled; through Horn’s treatment of her, Leonie is pushed towards Alboury, but there is a fundamental breakdown in communication between Leonie and Alboury as well.
A person’s language is often connected to his or her social status. A person from a higher status will have a different dialect of the same language than someone from lower status. People brought up in poor surroundings or poverty are keen to swearing and have little concern to speaking properly as their language was intended. People from high society are the opposite. They are very much concerned ...
Alboury consistently employs the Woloff language when communicating with Leonie, although he speaks French and understands her – she in turn responds by speaking German to him. Although the characters have a shared language, they consciously choose ‘non-communication’ and this leads to the final conflict between the two characters and the tragic sacrifice and end of Leonie in the play; her scarification of her cheeks and her exile from both Africa and her relationship with Horn. Clare Finburgh comments; “Characters in the play solicit responses, but don’t get them. Words don’t enable characters to know and understand each other any better.
Words reflect the tragic impossibility to access Others and to understand the self… the more characters speak, the less they seem able of communicating. ”13None of the characters share the same views or language and communication breaks down as they fail to communicate and understand one another. The essential non-communication in Black Battles creates every conflict of the play – the conflicts that ultimately define the tragedy. In Rhinoceros, non-communication leads to a total breakdown of communication which creates the conflicts that are the tragedy of the play.
Rhinoceros is a play of language, and more specifically, an excess of language; where the words themselves become autonomous and their very meaning is lost. Throughout the play there is a complete excess of dialogue; the same sentences are repeated over and over and characters often appear to have conversations with several other characters at once and the dialogue becomes both a soliloquy and a multi-character dialogue. The characters do not actually convey any meaning or make themselves understood, in much the same way that the characters drowned in language in Black Battles With Dogs. In the absence of meaning, the words themselves take absolute control and drive their unfortunate victim withersoever their blind and dangerous energies may choose to direct. ”14 We see an excellent example of the autonomy of language in Act One, wherein several characters – Jean, Berenger, Daisy, The Old Gentleman, The Logician, The Grocer, The Waitress etc. – communicate simultaneously, neither requiring nor achieving a response from any character but themselves; “WAITRESS: Oh, poor little thing! PROPRIETOR [Pointing, for the Waitress’s benefit, to the debris]: Over there, over there!
OLD GENTLEMAN [To the Grocer]: Well, what do you think of that? BERENGER [To the Housewife]: You mustn’t cry like that, it’s too heartbreaking! DAISY [To Berenger]: Were you there, Mr Berenger? Did you see it? BERENGER [to Daisy]: Good morning Miss Daisy, you must excuse me, I haven’t had a chance to shave… PROPRIETOR: Poor little thing! ”15 Here we see that although the characters are fluent in their use of language, no one truly hears nor understands anyone else, nor do they require responses for their own language to continue; Richard N. Coe comments; “…
This process [exhaustion of language’s meaning] reaches its logical conclusion in the unforgettable ‘dialogues-in-counterpoint’ of Rhinoceros, where not only one, but several conversations are carried on simultaneously in the same vein, each character absorbed by his own obsessions, picking up the half-heard cues, not of his own, but of someone else’s interlocutor. ”16 Such an excess of language makes it impossible for any of the characters to make themselves understood, and this is what leads to the conflict of the play; the ‘Rhinoceritis’ that afflicts each character one by one.
As we have seen with both Phedre and Black Battles with Dogs, the ‘tragedy of language’ manifests itself in the essential ‘non-communication’ of the play. The excess and autonomy of language in Ionesco’s work results in ‘meaningless language’, and the inability of any character to hear or be heard; to understand or be understood, ultimately leads to the demise of humanity; the true tragedy of the play. But it is not just non-communication that creates a ‘tragedy of language’, any form of communication can create the conflicts that lead to such a tragedy. The profoundest of Racine’s tragedies is also the most formal; for the tragic stake here is less the meaning of language than its manifestation, less Phaedra’s love than her avowal. Or more exactly; to name evil is to exhaust it entirely. ”17 Roland Barthes makes this statement about Phedre, and throughout the play we can see that the tragedy is in the manifestation of language, rather than its meaning. Without the vocalization of the secrets and sins which are hidden by characters in the play, there need not be any conflict or violence, and consequently, no tragedy.
In speaking the secret and the guilt, the tragic characters force others to respond and act and it is in these actions that the tragedy is fulfilled, in speaking the sin, the tragedy is manifest, “Speech is terrible. First, because it is an act, the word is very powerful. Mostly, however, it is because it is irreversible: no speech can be taken back. By avoiding speech, one avoids action. ”18 Phedre draws on the ‘tragedy of language’ by the process that language leads to conflict, which leads to violence and death, all the key elements of a work of tragedy. PHAEDRA: Dying I could have kept my name unstained, and my dark passion from the light of day. ”19 Although already guilty of her sin, Phaedra’s guilt is only created if the sin is spoken. If it remains unsaid her guilt is not external, so there need be no external conflict. However, not speaking has created inner conflict for Phaedra which has caused her slow death. Only she will die if the secret is unspoken, but through language, she causes the death of Hippolytus as well as her own.
The tragic characters of Phedre – Hippolytus, Theseus and Phaedra herself – only meet their tragic ends through the manifestation of language in the play; only through the utterance of Pheadra’s love does the tragedy of the play unfold, as in this utterance, language takes the form of a weapon. In Phedre, language takes the form of a weapon in conjunction with communication with ‘otherness’’; Theseus communicates with the ultimate ‘Other being’ when he asks Poseidon to exact revenge upon Hippolytus; “THESEUS: But still the villain will not now escape.
Immortal hands are with his downfall charged. This Neptune owes me, you will be avenged. ”20 However, Theseus becomes a victim of his own words; he speaks too soon and cannot unsay what he has said. Oenone’s ruse is a further example of the conflict that language creates; Oenone seeks, not to reverse Phaedra’s statement, but to manipulate the language, she seeks to transfer Phaedra’s sinful confession from Phaedra to Hippolytus, thereby turning the confession into a weapon; “OENONE: Dare then to accuse him first, Of the offense he soon may charge you with…
All I need is your silence to succeed. ”21 Koltes’ use of language in his play is another fine example of language becoming a weapon and subsequently, the language of the play is what creates and drives the conflict which defines Black Battles as a tragedy. Maria Delgado notes; “French is a language rendered anew in his plays… Words are weapons in the plays; both armour and the Achilles’ Heel. They bargain, mash, cajole and mislead. 22 In Black Battles we can detect almost constant use of language by the characters in this way; every character but Alboury uses their language as both a shield and a weapon; Cal is desperate to rid himself of his crime and hides behind his words, weaving intricate narratives which in the end, only drive him towards his fatal end, whereas Horn uses his language to manipulate and negotiate with all characters he comes into contact with, using long monologues and elaborate speeches both to hide behind and attack with, and this can be seen most prolifically in his dealings with Alboury.
In Scene Thirteen, Horn delivers a large number of long monologues, all in the hope of distracting Alboury from his task, delivering vast quantities of meaningless language in the hope of defending himself and Cal from their crimes. Furthermore Koltes’ play makes comment on the colonial rule in Africa; French is a language imposed on the African people through colonial rule.
Alboury speaks in French through most of the play and always when addressing Horn, and this is a demonstration of how language has been used as a weapon in a much grander sense; language, and the imposition of a new language was used to dominate and repress the blacks, both in the play and in the reality of the time. As mentioned, Alboury does not employ his language as a weapon, and this is certainly a result of French being a second language to him “Few characters in Koltes’ plays are as direct as Alboury; his first words are simply who he is and what he has come to do.
He does not waver from this position throughout the play. ”23 Here, the tragedy of language is in both Cal and Horn’s employment of their language as a weapon, a weapon which only drives them towards the tragic end of the piece and furthermore, Koltes draws on a ‘tragedy of language’ in his illumination of the tragic use of language in reality; as Clare Finburgh states; “Colonialised people are forced to speak a non-native language eg. French. Language is used by the coloniser to dominate, not communicate. 24 Language is used to repress in a political sense, and this, resulting in the domination of race and an inevitable conflict, is tragic in itself. In Ionesco’s work, the language has an equally violent streak, however mankind itself is victimised by an autonomous language; no character is responsible for exacting violence against another, it is the language itself that creates and develops the conflict; “The victimisation of man by language results in the death of language.
The death of language has plunged man dizzying backwards, not merely into everlasting silence, but into primeval chaos, where all things are confounded in obscurity. ”25 The language is responsible for the characters’ metamorphosis, the death of language through it’s lack of meaning results in the decay and demise of mankind; the language takes on a life of its own and turns on the characters, Richard N. Coe recognises this; “The final transformation of Dudard into an armour-plated perissodactyl is an illustration of mankind victimised by language. 26 The entirety of Act Three is an elaborate demonstration of the victimisation of man by language; we are presented with the case of Dudard, and we follow him from an early conviction to remain a man, to his eventual demise in his metamorphosis and it is language that mobilizes and enables this demise; early in Act Three he states an intention to remain human, “DUDARD: We’ll all stay as we are, don’t worry. So why get upset over a few cases of Rhinoceritis? Perhaps it’s just another disease. 27
As the scene progresses, however, Dudard’s language begins to turn upon him; “DUDARD [reflectively]: I wonder if we oughtn’t to give it a try? ”28 and eventually, his language wins and he meets his tragic fate; “DUDARD: I shall keep my mind clear. [He starts to move around the stage in circles. ] As clear as it ever was. But if you’re going to criticize, it’s better to do so from the inside. I’m not going to abandon them. I won’t abandon them…. [DUDARD opens the door and runs off. ”29 Conflict is an essential ingredient for any tragic work, and ‘tragedy of language’ is drawn upon masterfully by Ionesco in his systematic victimisation of his characters through autonomous language; mankind is destined to die and it’s demise is orchestrated by a self-determining language. Language and communication is what defines human beings from animals, and its power is overwhelming. French theatre draws deeply upon ‘a tragedy of language’; the defining elements of a tragic work – conflict, fatality and ‘otherness’ – are all commonly both created and fulfilled through and by language itself.
The instances of non-communication, breakdown of language and language becoming a weapon in conflict are rife in both classical and contemporary French theatre. We have seen, in Phedre, how silence and non-communication can create and determine the tragedy of a play, in Black Battles with Dogs we have seen how language can become a weapon and a tool used in dealing with ‘otherness’ and in Rhinoceros we have seen how language itself can create conflict, and by the death of language, how characters can meet their tragic, pre-destined deaths. A tragedy of language’ can appear in many forms, and in French theatre, we see a wide manifestation of language’s tragic potential, in a number of incarnations – from a tragedy of silence to tragedy through autonomous language – but, as this essay has discovered, ‘tragedy of language’ is deeply imbedded within both classical and contemporary French theatre.