Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Speech acts at work in tragedy: Ordinary language from the classical to the contemporary stage
by Maley, Patrick, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2010, 270; 3432122
Abstract (Summary)

Regarding speech acts as pivotal to the operation of tragedy, my dissertation examines the complicated ways that the process of ordinary language contributes to and motivate the tragic dénouement. Despite significant changes with the passing of time and the transposing of culture, tragic figures remain speaking bodies who engage with the social sphere of their plays through ordinary language. My focus on speech acts thus provides unique access to consistent forces within a constantly evolving dramatic form, allowing for a treatment of plays as chronologically and culturally disparate as the Hippolytus and Topdog/Underdog, for instance, side by side as vibrant members of the same artistic spectrum. Finding that tragic characters from Oedipus through Macbeth, Willy Loman, and Hester Swane regularly get themselves into trouble with language, I argue that tragic speakers engender tragedy by transgressing the social demands of ordinary language. Rather than fate or divine spite, then, the ordinary utterances of speaking bodies form the crux of tragedy, a genre that stages the struggle of speakers to negotiate constantly evolving social forces.

Each chapter is organized around a specific speech act that recurs throughout the history of tragedy, examining prominent plays from several different epochs with a view to how the repetition and revision of the speech act over tragedy’s historical trajectory critiques specific historical, social, and political concepts. The first of the project’s four chapters establishes the theoretical framework of tragic theory informed by the concerns of ordinary language philosophy and executed genealogically; an analysis of a similar speech act at work in The Libation Bearers, Macbeth, and The Shadow of a Gunman elucidates this methodology. The second chapter traces the work of the decree through Sophocles’ Theban plays, Shakespeare’s Richard II, and Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats…; the third analyzes the disavowal's importance to King Lear, Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, and Brian Friel’s Translations; and the final chapter focuses on the work of what I call the passionate oath in Euripides’ Hippolytus, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and Suzan-Lori Parks's Topdog/Underdog.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Vogel, Shane, Watt, Stephen
Commitee: Anderson, Judith H., Christ, Matthew, Mackay, Ellen
School: Indiana University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 72/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Classical studies, Comparative literature, American literature, British and Irish literature, Theater History
Keywords: Drama, Ethics, Ordinary language, Performative, Speech act, Tragedy
Publication Number: 3432122
ISBN: 9781124355412
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