William Shakespeare

Hamlet

 c. 1600

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be players that I have seen play, and heard others praise, and that highly (not to speak it profanely), that, neither having th’ accent of Christians nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of nature’s journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

Friedrich Nietzsche

The Birth of Tragedy

 1872

As we watched the drama, our penetrating gaze entered the turbulent inner world of motives—and yet it seemed to us as if this were only an allegorical image which was passing before us, whose most profound meaning we almost believed we had guessed, and which we wished to pull back like a curtain, in order to catch sight of the original image behind. The most radiant clarity of the image was not enough for us: for this appeared to conceal as much as it revealed; and while its allegorical revelation seemed to invite the tearing of the veil and the disclosure of the secret background, at the same time the total visibility of that radiance held the eye in its spell and prevented it from penetrating more deeply.

To say that in life things really do turn out so tragically would be the least satisfactory explanation of the emergence of an art form, if art is not merely an imitation of the reality of nature, but rather a metaphysical supplement to the reality of nature, set alongside it for the purpose of overcoming it. The tragic myth, insofar as it belongs to art at all, also participates fully in art’s metaphysical intention to transfigure: but what does it transfigure, when it presents the world of phenomena in the image of the suffering hero? Least of all the “reality” of this world of phenomena, for it says to us, “Look here! Take a close look! This is your life! This is the hour hand on the clock of your existence!”

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