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Shadows of the Enlightenment | Tragic Drama during Europe’s Age of Reason

The Ohio State University Press

“The approach the contributors to this collection take to Enlightenment tragedy is, in a word, expansive. Their multilingual scope and careful tracking of the genre’s transition from grand-siècle tragedy to romantic and modernist drama will make this book an invaluable resource for scholars across literary fields.” —Pannill Camp, author of The First Frame: Theatre Space in Enlightenment France

To refer to Enlightenment tragedy is to teeter on the brink of paradox. The eighteenth century is famous for its celebration and deployment of ideals such as optimism, reason, and human progress—ideals seemingly contradicted by the pessimism and passion of much classical tragedy. Moreover, tragedy in the Enlightenment is also often overlooked in favor of its illustrious seventeenth-century predecessors. In Shadows of the Enlightenment, an assemblage of respected experts specializing in classical, eighteenth-century, comparative, and modernist literary traditions offer a corrective analysis, proving that the Enlightenment was a critical period for tragic drama, during which the signature classical influences of the era coexisted with an emerging modern identity. By analyzing a highly diverse set of works—from Johann Christoph Gottsched to Voltaire to Joanna Baillie—with a rare pan-European scope, the contributors excavate the dynamic, and indeed paradoxical, entanglement of antiquity and modernity encapsulated by Enlightenment tragedy. 

Contributors: Joshua Billings, Logan J. Connors, Adrian Daub, Cécile Dudouyt, James Harriman-Smith, Joseph Harris, Alex Eric Hernandez, Blair Hoxby, Russ Leo, Larry F. Norman, Stefan Tilg

About the Author

Blair Hoxby writes on the literature and culture of England, France, Italy, and Spain from 1500 to 1800.  His recent research has focused on the theory and practice of tragedy during that period – which differed sharply from the idea of tragedy that most of us now take for granted.  He also writes on the poetry and prose of John Milton, John Dryden, and their Augustan heirs.  He teaches English poetry from the Renaissance to Romanticism, tragedy and tragic theory from Aristotle to the present, theater history, and performance theory.

He is the author of What Was Tragedy? Theory and the Early Modern Canon (Oxford: OUP, 2015) and Mammon’s Music: Literature and Economics in the Age of Milton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).  He is the editor of Milton in the Long Restoration (Oxford: OUP, May 2016), a collection of twenty-nine original essays that analyze the way authors writing from 1650 to 1750 interpreted, imitated, and parodied Milton.

Recent selected articles include:

■ “Technologies of Performance,” in A Cultural History of Theatre, ed. Chris and Tracy Davis.  Vol 3, The Renaissance, ed. Robert Henke.  London: Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming 2017.

■ Politics and Aesthetics in European Baroque and Classicist Tragedy, ed. Jan Bloemendal and Nigel Smith.  Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

■ “The Richardsons, the Sublime, and the Invention of Aesthetic Theory,” in  Milton in the Long Restoration, ed. with Ann Baynes Coiro.  Oxford: OUP, forthcoming May 2016.

■ “Passions,” in 21st-Century Approaches: Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry Turner.  New York: OUP, 2013.

■ “What Was Tragedy?  The World We Have Lost, 1550-1795,” Comparative Literature 64 (2012):  1-32.

■ “Allegorical Drama,” in The Cambridge Companion to Allegory, ed. Rita Copeland and Peter Struck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

■ “The Function of Allegory in Baroque Tragic Drama: What Benjamin Got Wrong,” in Thinking Allegory Otherwise, ed. Brenda Machowsky.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.

■ "Areopagitica and Liberty," in The Oxford Handbook of Milton, ed. Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith. Oxford: OUP, 2009.

■ "All Passion Spent: The Means and Ends of a Tragédie en Musique," Comparative Literature 59 (2007): 33-62.

■ "The Wisdom of Their Feet: Meaningful Dance in Milton and the Stuart Masque," English Literary Renaissance 37.1 (2007): 74-99.