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In Shakespeare's Festive Tragedy Naomi Conn Liebler offers a trenchant and challenging re-reading of the genre of Shakespearean tragedy. Extending the category of the "festive" to apply to tragedy as well as comedy, Liebler describes Shakespearean tragedy as a celebration of communal survival, and a demonstration of what happens when a community violates the ritual structures that define and preserve it.
Employing the works of drama theorists, such as Aristotle, Brecht and Girard, as well as cultural anthropologists, such as Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner and Mary Douglas, Liebler focuses upon tragedy as the formal representation of real social action and conflict. She views the community as a whole--not just the protagonist--as the real subject of the drama. The festive tragedy is concerned with ritual practice whose function is, as King Lear's Tom O'Bedlam put it, "to prevent the fiend and to kill vermin"--that is, to protect and purge. The violation of this ritual practice jeopardizes the survival of the entire community. Through a detailed analysis of a number of Shakespeare's great tragic works, Shakespeare's Festive Tragedy provides a series of fresh connections between the rituals of festivity and tragedy.