Subscribe to our mailing list to get updates

* indicates required

Thinking Through Tragedy and Comedy A Symposium on Performance Philosophy and the Future of Genre

Katrin Trüstedt


For most authors writing on modernity in terms of tragedy and comedy, from Hegel and Nietzsche to Benjamin and Schmitt, Shakespeare plays an important role as a figure at the threshold of modernity, yet his late comedies, the so-called romances, have not received the explicit attention they deserve in this regard. A reading of Shakespeare’s The Tempest against the background of these writers can bring out the distinctive quality of this particular kind of modern comedy that pays tribute to its underlying tragedy and goes beyond the three models of comedy that are most prominent in the philosophy of modernity: the comedy of demystification, the comedy of law, and the comedy of play. All of these models locate the modernity of comedy in its capacity to dissolve and supersede tragedy. Considered in comparison with Shakespearean romance, however, it becomes evident that these models fall short of taking up the challenge of tragedy in modernity: Either they leave tragic potentials untouched that continue to haunt modernity, or they produce even new tragic predicaments they fail to acknowledge and to deal with. The “sea-change of comedy” introduced by Shakespearean romance can be characterized by the way it differs from the three models of comedy: (i) Instead of providing a way to overcome myth by means of a comedy of rationalization, the Shakespearean romance is rather to be seen as a constant de- and re-arranging of myths, a “work on myth” (Hans Blumenberg). (ii) Instead of attempting to solve tragedy by means of a ‘comedy of law’, The Tempest offers an aporetic solution of forgiveness that interrupts the circulation of retribution, yet cannot ban the tragic from forming anew. (iii) Instead of leaving the tragic untouched by becoming an idle play, The Tempest lets the tragic potential that modernity can never fully overcome suffer a sea-change of comedy: a sea-change “into something rich and strange”.

Katrin Trüstedt is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Erfurt. She received her PhD from the European University at Frankfurt/Oder in 2008 with a thesis on Shakespeare's Tempest and the relation of tragedy and comedy in Hegel, Nietzsche, Benjamin and others. Currently, she is working on figures of “Stellvertretung” in law and literature (advocacy, agency, being a proxy, etc.). From 09/2012 till 01/2014 Katrin was a Research Scholar at the German Department at Yale University.