Saturday, June 03, 2006

ANTIGONE (by Jean Anouilh, translated by Lewis Galantiere : an excerpt)


The spring is wound up tight. It will uncoil of itself. That is what is so convenient in tragedy. The least little turn of the wrist will do the job. Anything will set it going: a glance at a girl who happens to be lifting her arms to her hair as you go by; a feeling when you wake up on a fine morning that you’d like a little respect paid to you today, as if it were as easy to order as a second cup of coffee; one question too many, idly thrown out over a friendly drink – and the tragedy is on.
The rest is automatic. You don’t need to lift a finger. The machine is in perfect order, it has been oiled ever since time began, and it runs without friction. Death, treason and sorrow are on the march; and they move in the wake of storm, of tears, of stillness. Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner’s axe goes up at the end of the last act. The unbreathable silence when, at the beginning of the play, the lovers, their hearts bared, their bodies naked, stand for the first time face to face in the darkened room, afraid to stir. The silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner – so that you think of a film without a soundtrack, mouths agape and no sound coming out of them, a clamour that is no more than a picture; and you, the victor, already vanquished, alone in the desert of your silence. That is tragedy.
Tragedy is clean. It is restful, it is flawless. It has nothing to do with melodrama – with wicked villains, persecuted maidens, avengers, sudden revelations and eleventh hour repentances. Death, in a melodrama is really horrible because it is never inevitable. The dear old father might so easily have been saved; the honest young man might so easily have brought in the police five minutes earlier.
In a tragedy, nothing is in doubt and everybody’s destiny is known. That makes for tranquility. There is a sort of fellow-feeling among the characters in a tragedy: he who kills is as innocent as he who gets killed: it’s all a matter of what part you are playing. Tragedy is restful; and the reason is that hoe, that foul deceitful thing, has no part in it. There isn’t any hope. You’re trapped. The whole sky has fallen on you, and all you can do about it is to shout. Don’t mistake me: I said “shout”: I did not say groan, whimper, complain. That, you cannot do. But you can shout aloud; you can get all those things said that you never thought you’d be able to say – or even knew you had it in you to say. And you don’t say these things because it will do you any good to say them: you know better than that. You say them for their own sake; you say them because you learn a lot from them.
In melodrama, you argue and struggle in the hope of escape. That is vulgar; it’s practical. But in tragedy, where there is no temptation to try to escape, argument is gratuitous: it’s kingly.

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