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Moral universe of Alexandre Hardy's tragedies Panter, James

Abstract

The object of the present study is to analyse and interpret Hardy's achievement in the field of tragedy. Critics have generally recognised the importance of his vast output of plays in the development of French drama in the seventeenth century, while denigrating the literary merit of his works. The only full-scale study of this dramatist, Rigal's Alexandre Hardy et le théâtre francais à la fin du XVIe siècle et au commencement du XVIIe siècle, is devoted largely to a consideration of his life and of theatrical conditions at this time, to a comparison of his plays with those of his precursors and followers, and to an examination of source material. The present study compares the plays one with another to determine what features they have in common, attempting to arrive thereby at Hardy's conception of the structure and function of tragedy. The text followed is that of Stengel's re-edition. The plays are analysed under the headings of plot and action, theme, and character. The first chapter studies Hardy's use of stage spectacle, presented action and reported action, and shows that, contrary to popular misconception, he does not indulge in gratuitous or excessive horror and violence on the stage. Rather he presents a situation in which the tragic hero is offered a choice of courses of action, the outcome of which will be fortunate or unfortunate according to the course chosen. The typical pattern of the action of a tragedy by Hardy is, therefore, a rising and falling, or falling and rising motion about a central scene of conflict. Sometimes this pattern is seen in the life of a single hero, sometimes the contrasting fortunes of two characters are presented. In the second chapter the moral principles of the protagonists are examined to determine the basic theme of the tragedies, which is found to be broadly political. Hardy presents a number of types of king, ranging from the tyrant to the perfect monarch, and renders this traditional ideological contrast in a series of discussions of the problems of kingship arising from a particular dramatic situation. Justice, clemency, the rule of law and service to the state are the guiding principles of the good king. A second, and more original aspect of this political theme, that of legitimacy and the right of conquest, is found in some of the tragedies. The third chapter shows that Hardy presents dynamic heroes who strive to attain an ideal of personal gloire. Some heroes fail to arrive at this ideal because they succumb to their passions at a crucial moment; others acquire personal fulfilment only to become aware of a greater sense of service to others. A moral dilemma arises from the conflict between the ideal of personal honour and that of the king's duty to the state. The latter is achieved only by self-abnegation, and one may establish a hierarchy of heroes, ranging from Hérode, in whom subjection to the passions leads to destruction of the personality, to Cirus, the embodiment of self-sufficiency. In the conclusion to this study the moral framework of Hardy's tragedies is shown to lie in the self-sufficiency and will to perfection of the hero who recognises only honour and justice as immutable principles external to himself. It is a conception of tragedy which includes not only degradation and despair, but also optimism and the exaltation of the human spirit. Plot summaries of Hardy's ten tragedies are given in an appendix.

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