• Hegel’s Theory Of Tragic Heroes: The Historical Progress Of Subjectivity

      Gjesdal, Kristin; Feagin, Susan L., 1948-; Hammer, Espen; Kottman, Paul A., 1970- (Temple University. Libraries, 2016)
      This dissertation argues that Hegel’s theory of tragedy is best understood in combination with his theory of the historical progress of subjective freedom, and that this progress is manifested as the heroes of tragic drama in its different stages of antiquity, early modernity, and late modernity. The truth of tragedy for Hegel, like the content of all art, progresses concomitantly with human freedom, reason, and subjectivity. Likewise, humanity’s self-understanding of these aspects of itself also historically progresses. In this light, I further argue that Hegel’s theory shows tragedy to be not only a historically contextualized cultural practice and form of self-understanding but also a presentation of absolute truth: the truth of a culture at a particular historical moment is presented in its tragedy, yet that culture is a part of a larger narrative, so that a common thread running through tragic drama of all eras comes to light when tragedy is examined through the lens of Hegel’s philosophy. Specifically, I show that Hegel views self-contradiction, alienation, and the drive to reconcile these as underlying universal human conditions, and in tragedy this universal truth is embodied in the tragic hero. This appears in tragic heroes as they take responsibility for unintentional actions, or as they remain fixed to their cause although it brings about their own downfall. In consideration of our own historical standpoint and of my agreement with Hegel’s view that tragedy retains an important role in our cultural self-understanding, this dissertation shifts the focus from ancient Greek tragedy, the prevailing theme in Hegel scholarship and in wider discussions of Hegel’s theory of tragedy, and instead directs more attention to modern tragedy. According to Hegel, a key aspect of all tragic heroes is that they either freely will their actions or take responsibility for them, or both. Additionally, as subjective freedom historically progresses, so does our awareness of our freedom to choose our actions or to take responsibility for them. I show how this progress is manifested in ancient, early modern, and late modern tragic heroes—in works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Schiller, respectively—and, finally, in the tragic heroes of some contemporary works of film. The historical grounding of my reading of Hegel’s theory of tragedy combined with my focus on the tragic hero lends a unique perspective to our understanding of Hegel’s theories of tragedy and of subjectivity, and to our interpretations of the tragic works themselves. This dissertation thus sheds new light on Hegel’s theory of tragedy, an important endeavor in itself, with the larger aim of showing how Hegel’s philosophy of tragedy helps us better understand both tragedy and ourselves, as inheritors of and participants in philosophical discussions of tragedy, and as contemporary audiences that engage with tragic dramas in a variety of venues.