The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy

The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy

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By Sean Carney
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2013
World Rights
360 Pages
ISBN 9781442613973
Published Feb 2013
Online discount: 15%
 $35.95    $30.56
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442663510
Published Feb 2013
Online discount: 25%
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The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy is a detailed study of the idea of the tragic in the political plays of David Hare, Howard Barker, Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane, and Jez Butterworth. Through an in-depth analysis of over sixty of their works, Sean Carney argues that their dramatic exploration of tragic experience is an integral part of their ongoing politics. This approach allows for a comprehensive rather than selective study of both the politics and poetics of their work.

Carney’s attention to the tragic enables him to find a common discourse among the canonical English playwrights of an older generation and representatives of the nineties generation, challenging the idea that there is a sharp generational break between these groups. Finally, Carney demonstrates that tragic experience is often denied by the social discourse of Englishness, and that these playwrights make a crucial critical intervention by dramatizing the tragic.

Sean Carney is an associate professor in the Department of English at McGill University.



Chapter One
David Hare: The Work of Mourning, or, The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Bourgeoisie

The Year of Magical ThinkingTeeth ‘n’ Smiles Plenty –– The Secret RaptureSkylightThe Judas KissAmy’s ViewMy Zinc BedThe Permanent Way –– The Vertical HourGethsemane

Chapter Two
Howard Barker: Will and Desire – From the Tragedy of Socialism to the Ecstasy of the Unconscious

ClawFair SlaughterThat Good Between Us –– The Power of the DogVictoryThe Castle – The Europeans –– The PossibilitiesGertrude-The CryDead HandsThe Seduction of Almighty God by the Boy Priest Loftus in the Abbey of Calcetto, 1539

Chapter Three
Edward Bond: Tragedy and Postmodernity, or, The Promethean Impulse

SavedLearBingoThe Fool –– Restoration –– The War Plays Olly’s PrisonAt the Inland SeaCoffeeThe Crime of the Twenty-First CenturyChair

Chapter Four
Caryl Churchill: The Dionysian Möbius Strip

Seven Jewish ChildrenLovesickAbortive –– OwnersTraps –– Light Shining in BuckinghamshireCloud NineTop GirlsFenA Mouthful of Birds– Lives of the Great PoisonersThe SkrikerThyestes ––– Far Away –– A Number

Chapter Five
New English Tragedians: The Tragedy of the Tragic

Mark Ravenhill: Shopping and Fucking – Faust is Dead – Handbag – Some Explicit Polaroids – Product – The Cut pool (no water) – Sarah Kane: BlastedPhaedra’s Love Cleansed Crave 4.48 Psychosis

Conclusion: Late Modernism in Jerusalem

Works Cited


‘It is a real pleasure to read a study that negotiates its material as seriously, subtly, and purposefully as does The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy. This book offers a serious advance in research, and I look forward to my students and colleagues having the chance to read it.’
David Ian Rabey, Department of Theatre, Film, and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University

The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy is valuable contribution to the study of modern British drama. It is full of acutely interesting insights, articulated precisely and beautifully, and its focus on tragedy is rarely encountered in other works. This study is important and necessary not just because the book’s theoretical angle is new but also because it offers a unique combination of playwrights, from David Hare to Sarah Kane.’

Luc Gilleman, Department of English Language and Literatures Smith College

‘The study discusses a unique combination of English playwrights and their works and offers a valuable resource for academics, serious readers and theatergoers who appreciate contemporary English drama. Highly recommended.’

J.S. Baggett, Choice Magazine, vol 51:02:2013

‘Sean Carney has written a study which every student and academic interested in contemporary English theatre, in political drama, and in the concept of tragedy has been waiting for…. This will prove a valuable resource for students in Literature and Drama.’

Anne Etienne, New Theatre Quarterly vol30:02:2014

‘Carney’s account of these plays is patient and rigorous, and his delineation of tragedy as a postmodern category cogent…His study illuminates the powerful politics contained within a theatre of joy and despair.’

Lily Cui, Modern Drama vol 57:02:2014Modern Drama vol 57:02:2014

‘This volume serves as a compelling intellectual history of the era, a detailed analysis of the work of the playwrights at its centre, and a crucial addition to the theory of both the transhistorical tragic and the place of tragedy in (post)modernity.’

Ariel Watson, Theatre Journal vol 67:01:2015