According to traditional accounts, the history of tragedy is itself tragic: following a miraculous birth in fifth-century Athens and a brilliant resurgence in the early modern period, tragic drama then falls into a marked decline. While challenging the notion that tragedy has died, this wide-ranging study argues that it faces an unprecedented challenge in modern times from an unexpected quarter: political economy.
Since Aristotle, tragedy has been seen as uniquely exhibiting the importance of action for human happiness. Beginning with Adam Smith, however, political economy has claimed that the source of happiness lies primarily in production. Eclipse of Action examines the tense relations between action and production, doing and making, in playwrights from Aeschylus, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton to Beckett, Arthur Miller, and Sarah Kane. Richard Halpern places these figures in conversation with works by Aristotle, Smith, Hegel, Marx, Hannah Arendt, Georges Bataille, and others in order to trace the long history of the ways in which economic thought and tragic drama interact. At heart, this ambitious book offers nothing less than a new approach to understanding the history of tragedy, the challenges it faces, and, crucially, the means at its disposal for surmounting them.