The University of Wisconsin Press

Classical Studies / Drama & Performance Studies / Fiction French / Literature - Ancient and Medieval

The Tragic Middle
Racine, Aristotle, Euripides
Richard E. Goodkin

"This is an extraordinary book, brilliantly conceived and beautifully written. Its approach to the well-worn subject of tragic drama is quite fresh. While Goodkin draws on the best of traditional scholarship in philosophy, classical philology, and literary criticism, he argues with an intellectual style that is entirely his own. Every reader will be stimulated in his own particular way—so great is the range and power of this book—to extend the book's argument toward or from his own area of interest."—William Levitan, Princeton University

The Tragic Middle links the philosophical texts of Aristotle with the tragic dramas of Racine and Euripides to show that tragic heroism results from a conflict between two ways of approaching a problem: a practical, ethical approach based on compromise and middle ground (Aristotle’s “golden mean”), and a theoretical approach that rejects ambivalence and admits only mutually exclusive solutions (the law of the “excluded middle,” found in Aristotle’s Metaphysics). Richard Goodkin asserts that the tension between Aristotle’s two precepts is eminently tragic and is crucial to the theater of Racine and Euripides.

The relation between the seventeenth-century French dramatist and the tragedian of ancient Greece has received scant critical attention, though four of Racine’s plays are largely based on works by Euripides. Goodkin closely reads these eight plays, demonstrating and developing his theory of tragic discourse. He shows that traditional definitions of French Classicism stressing moderation and proportion fail to account for the tragic conflict central to Racine’s work.

Goodkin, with thorough knowledge of both French literature and the Classics, approaches the ancient and modern texts even-handedly, without treating the Euripides plays as mere forerunners of Racine’s masterpieces or deeming Racine a pale imitator of Euripides. He makes astute contributions to the study of Aristotelian philosophy, comparative drama, and European neoclassicism and brings novel perspectives to three perennially favorite figures in the humanities.

Richard E. Goodkin
is associate professor of French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Around Proust.

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White cover with a blue sketch of an ancient, decaying ampitheater

September 1991

LC: 91-003595 PQ
222 pp.     6 x 9

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Cloth $40.00 s
ISBN 978-0-299-13080-0
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