Murder by Words
Keywords:Tragedy, Civil War, Stichomythia, Poetry, Hegel
The title of this essay comes from Hölderlin’s “Remarks on Antigone”, and the realization that in tragedy the most significant – and dangerous – acts are the words a character utters. After briefly discussing how wars and civil wars have offered the tragic imagination some of its typical materials, the essay examines two extreme cases – Sophocles’ Antigone and Shakespeare’s Macbeth – that make certain aspects of tragic form particularly clear. In their antithetical ways, Sophocles’ dialogues and Shakespeare’s soliloquies illustrate the way words accompany the course of action, especially near the turning-points of Antigone’s and Macbeth’s existence. A brief coda on Büchner’s Danton’s Death will suggest a possible nexus between tragic form and the modern perception of history.