Places: The Tragedy of Tragedies

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1731

First produced: 1731

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Farce

Time of work: Age of chivalry

Places DiscussedKing Arthur’s Court

King Tragedy of Tragedies, TheArthur’s Court. The public and private rooms in the legendary King Arthur’s castle are the settings for most action in this play. Through a series of scenes in which characters move on and off stage quickly, Fielding illustrates the petty jealousies that drive many in authority to carry out policies that affect the future of the state. Fielding uses the setting as a means of calling into question the social values espoused by the writers of Arthurian romance.

Knights and ladies of the court use Arthur’s main hall and the various bedchambers and hallways of the castle as sites for plotting to eliminate rivals either for love or for political power. No character is exempt from the dramatist’s satiric, even savage, wit: King Arthur himself is unfaithful to his beloved wife (here called Dollallolla), and only Tom Thumb–a dwarf in physical stature–demonstrates the high moral character expected from a knight of Arthur’s Round Table.

Plain outside the court

Plain outside the court. Site of the battle between the forces of Tom Thumb and those of his archenemy, Lord Grizzle. The battle scene parodies those found in works such as Homer’s The Iliad, Vergil’s Aeneid, and other epic poems, as well as many found in traditional Arthurian romances. Fielding uses the scene to highlight the ludicrous nature of the Romance tradition.

BibliographyHume, Robert D. Henry Fielding and the London Theatre, 1728-1737. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1988. This is the finest study of Fielding’s too-often-neglected career as a playwright-manager. Hume, probably the foremost scholar in the field of Restoration and eighteenth century drama, writes lucid, entertaining prose and has marshaled a remarkably impressive array of source materials. Highly recommended.Hunter, J. Paul. Occasional Form: Henry Fielding and the Chains of Circumstance. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975. Hunter, one of the foremost scholars of eighteenth century British literature, provides an excellent literary analysis of The Tragedy of Tragedies.Mace, Nancy. “Fielding, Theobald, and The Tragedy of Tragedies.” Philological Quarterly 66, no. 4 (Fall, 1987): 457-472.In its published form, with a preface and extensive footnotes by the fictional H. Scriblerus Secundus, Fielding’s play is a wickedly clever satire on academic learning and intellectual pretense. Mace’s article examines the relationship between Fielding and Lewis Theobald, a well-known (and often satirized) pedant and a principal target of Fielding’s satire.Morrissey, L. J. “Critical Introduction.” In “Tom Thumb” and “The Tragedy of Tragedies,” edited by L. J. Morrissey. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. For readers new to The Tragedy of Tragedies, this is probably the best place to start. Besides an excellent text of the full length play, the volume provides the earlier, afterpiece version of the play, Tom Thumb.Rivero, Albert J. The Plays of Henry Fielding: A Critical Study of His Dramatic Career. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989. This is the best purely literary study of Fielding’s plays as a whole. The analysis of The Tragedy of Tragedies lacks any sense of the play’s wonderful theatrical potential but is useful for its detailed study of Fielding’s language.
Categories: Places