LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 29, No.4 - Winter 1983
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1983 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE DISLOCATED TRAGIC HERO IN LATVIAN DRAMA
Southern Illinois University
Dislocation, as a playwriting technique, has been known and used since Aristotle described tragedy as a genre and defined the tragic hero in his Poetics. Using Sophocles' Oedipus Rex as the ultimate example of dramatic structure, he devised a set of rules governing the elements of drama, as well as the tragic hero's traits and qualities. At the same time, he criticized Euripides' dramatic writings using words, such as, "displaced," "removed," "disjointed," "disturbed," casting a negative light on the man whom he, nevertheless, called "the most tragic of the poets." Thus a rift was created between two great tragedy writers and, viewed through the blinders of Aristotle's Poetics, Euripides has suffered in comparison with Sophocles ever since.
Playwriting practices and theories have undergone many changes since Aristotle established his rules, but only recently an attempt has been made to explicate the difference between the dramaturgy imposed by Aristotle and the one practiced by Euripides. Less than a quarter-century ago, H. D. F. Kitto remarked that Euripides ". . . can never be explained on Aristotelian grounds because he was writing an un-Aristotelian tragedy, and unless we see what his real approach was, we shall have to call him incompetent . . ."1
The purpose of this writing is not to discuss the two incompatible systems of dramaturgy but to show how the concept of dislocation has been applied in Latvian drama, more specifically, in tragedies written by Adolfs Alunāns, Jānis Akuraters, and Arijs Geikins using the same legendary Latvian leader, Caupo, as protagonists. Therefore, only a short definition of the term dislocation is deemed necessary.
According to William Arrowsmith, the initial point of divergence between the Aristotelian and Euripidean systems lies in conflicting approaches to structure. For Aristotle, structure is a matter of plot, a dramatic action which must be continuous and whole. Aristotle's central metaphor of organic growth implies a steady, continuous and logical development: each part will evolve from what proceeds in uniform, cause to effect relationship. Euripidean structure is inorganic: plot does not necessarily display a cause to effect relation, the events are "disjointed" and the actions "disturbed," though functioning as operative elements. The nature of what Euripides imitates lies beyond the explanation of science. The accidents of nature and society, the irrational forces which continue to operate despite traditional wisdom and the objective ordering of logic are precisely the forces mirrored in Euripidean inorganic structure. Arrowsmith notes that "It is this violence in the conversion of reality that explains the wrenching dislocation of Euripidean drama from an Aristotelian point of view . . ."2 and describes dislocation as "... a deliberate juxtaposition of antithetical realities the reality of the material which the play takes from legend and myth, and the reality the dramatist forces, as action, from his old material."3
In practical terms, the basic difference between the Aristotelian and the Euripidean systems is emphasis. In Aristotle's system, conflict arises from character and the tragic focus is on the individual. In Euripides' system, conflict arises directly from structure and the tragic focus is on society. There have been dramatists, e.g., Shakespeare, who refused to observe at least some of the rules set forth by Aristotle (such as the three unities of place, time, and action) and still wrote great tragedies. There have been others, e.g., Schiller, who, either consciously or because of the prevailing world view, used the Euripidean approach, especially the external conflict between the hero and his society. Also those dramatists, though coming dangerously close to melodrama as a dramatic genre, were able to write exciting tragedies. Thus, it is possible to conclude that either one of the systems are workable models, and they both could be used according to the dramatist's intent or ability.
But there exists another possibility: using the best elements of both systems together. As we will attempt to show, Arijs Geikins, a recently emerged Soviet Latvian dramatist, has achieved at least a cohabitation, if not a synthesis, of the above mentioned seemingly opposing systems of dramaturgy in his tragedy, Legend About Caupo.4 In other words, it will be demonstrated that Geikins has designed his tragic hero according to the Aristotelian system, while at the same time dislocating him into the inorganic Euripidean structure. The result of such an approach is viable, and the tragedy can create a double effect upon an audience: empathy as well as alienation.
The Aristotelian tragic hero, even while opposing the established world order, must be designed in a way that forces the audiences to identify with him. When this identification (empathy) is achieved, the audiences will experience his tragic fate as if it were their own and will undergo catharsis the purging of souls through pity and fear. The structural dislocation, on the other hand, alienates the audiences, forcing them to gain an understanding of the irrational world in which the hero exists, however, at the same time, allowing the audiences to compare it with their own world. In short, one approach is intended to work on the audience's emotions, the other on its intellect.
During its relatively short history, the Latvian drama cannot pride itself with many tragedies emulating either of the two approaches. Although a strong tragic vision permeates many a play, a well defined tragic hero agreeing with the Aristotelian concept is hard to find. Actually, only one comes to mind: Mindaugas in Mārtinš Ziverts' Power; and this tragic hero becomes operant basically because of his intensity and the tightness of the dramatic action. The other tragedies, including those of Jānis Rainis, Aspāzija, and Andrejs Upits, though powerful plays, are more tragedies of victims than of heros, their protagonists being in conflict with society because of circumstance and not because of their tragic flaw necessitating such a conflict.
Most of the successful tragedy writers have used historical distance in order to achieve the necessary objectivity in dealing with their subject matters. Thus they have chosen their heros from legend or history, seldom from their own time. Not many prominent figures can be found in ancient Latvian history, and the legendary heroes, for most part, are romanticized inventions. Some Latvian dramatists have used historic heroes from other nations, some have created composites of mythical figures in order to overcome the shortage. Therefore, it is no wonder that Caupo, considered to be a traitor to the Latvian nation, has been repeatedly used as a prototype for dramatis personae, until his recent elevation to the status of a real tragic hero.
Among the legendary Latvian leaders of the thirteenth century, Caupo is the only one about whom information, though sketchy, is available in historical documents. In The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia,5 we read that in the year 1200, Caupo, together with other Livonian elders, has been invited by the German bishop, Albert, to a drinking party during one of the short periods of peace between the Livonians and the German missionary forces. There, the elders were kept captive until they delivered thirty boys to be sent as hostages to Germany. Three years later, a Brother Theodoric brings Caupo, now mentioned as a kind of king and elder of the Livonians, to Germany and after that to Rome where he is received by Pope Innocent III and given a gift of one-hundred gold pieces. In 1204, Caupo returns to Riga, but in 1206, leads one-half of Semgallian army against his own people, because "his goods were burned, his fields taken over, his bee trees broken up." In 1210, Caupo's son, Berthold, the elder of Wenden, leads an army against the Estonians. Near a fortress, Beverina, during a battle in which Caupo takes part too, he is killed together with Wane, Caupo's son-in-law. The following year, Caupo, together with other Livonian and Latgallian leaders plunders Estonia. In September 1217, while participating in a winning battle against the Estonians, he, had "run clear through by a lance, faithfully commemorating the Lord's passion, receiving the sacrament of the Lord's body, gave up his spirit in a sincere confession of the Christian religion, after he had divided all his goods among the churches established in Livonia . . . His body was burned and the bones were taken away to Livonia and buried at Cubbesele."6.
Ironically, the link between this historical description and the first usage of Caupo as a dramatis persona has been established by a German writer, Garlieb Merkel. Under the influence of eighteenth century enlightenment and sympathetic to the predicament of the Latvians, he freely created a legend, Vanems Imanta (published in German, 1802) in which he presents Caupo as a villain and a traitor of his nation in order to glorify the hero of the legend, Imanta.
Caupo remains a traitor, a cheat, and a lowly villain in Adolfs Alunāns' play, Our Ancestors (1905) where he is cast in the role of the antagonist, Imanta being the hero. Alunāns does not insist that his play is a tragedy; according to him, it is only "a scene from the past," where external conflict, involving love for one's nation, honor and faith, is presented and resolved by heroic actions. According to the Latvian world view prevailing at a time when the idea of the 1905 revolution had reached its apex, the lines between good and bad, the for and the against, were very clearly drawn. Thus also in Our Ancestors, we are first presented with Imanta venerating the Latvian pagan deities, setting up the camp of the positive forces in the play. Only in Act II, we meet Caupo telling us that, after he had been exposed to the splendor of Rome, he is ashamed of his nation's gods and his people who refuse to accept Christian faith and choose to live in darkness. We also learn that he is more than willing to help the Germans to trick the other Livonian elders and their followers into submission. The play ends with a highly melodramatic fight between Imanta and Caupo, who has been provided with a poisoned sword by the Germans. They kill each other, and while Imanta is carried away to a hero's funeral, Caupo's obituary is a one-liner: "Thus perishes a traitor of his nation."
While tragic vision as a common denominator permeates also the second attempt of using Caupo as a dramatis persona, this time in Janis Akuraters' tragedy, Caupo (written 1912, published 1922), the protagonist, now Caupo himself, does not achieve the necessary greatness of a tragic hero. The author, emulating nineteenth century romantic tragedies, uses love to motivate Caupo's actions that lead to his tragic end. Caupo is depicted as a restless dreamer, but the ultimate object of his longings is Agita, the daughter of a Semgallian leader, Viesturs, and the wife of Caupo's friend, Imanta. The historical facts have been rearranged and the relationships between the characters changed. In Our Ancestors, Agita was Imanta's wife and Caupo's sister, while Caupo was married to Maija, the daughter of Acons (Acco in the Chronicle).
Although Akuraters was criticized at the time of his tragedy's first production for misinterpreting historical facts, his effort to indicate a possible "tragic flaw" in the hero should be commended. Caupo's love, however, is selfish, and as such it does not elevate Caupo to a level above his own subjective tragedy. As Dzidra Vārdaune notes in the first reasonably comprehensive critical study of a Latvian tragedy, Tragedy as Genre in Latvian Literature, "Caupo's death when he, rejected by all, including Agita, stabs himself, does not create sympathy; it is perceived as a well-earned retribution for his perfidious deeds."7
In the tragedy, Legend About Caupo, Arijs Geikins does not deviate from history as much as his forerunners nor does he impose new relationships upon his characters. There is a change in name from Brother Theodoric to Dietrich and a peculiar addition of a character, a servant who becomes Caupo's constant companion from the moment he decides to go to Rome. This character is quite ambiguous as to his objectives and function in the drama. Although step by step the ambiguity regarding his objectives is cleared away, the character's function in the play remains open to interpretation he could be perceived as Caupo's alter ego as well as he could be used as a metaphor suggesting that history repeats itself. "Never will you be free of me I am your shadow . . ." the companion says to Caupo in Scene 14, after he has safeguarded his master in battles and restrained Caupo during outbursts of rage. Only at the very end of the play, he reveals to Caupo the fact that* he wants to kill him revenging his father's death who was killed by Caupo's father. Ironically, after he has burned Caupo's castle, raped his wife and lured his son onto Caupo's sword, he fails in achieving his final goal because Caupo dies from his own hand. As we have learned earlier, it is not historically correct that Caupo takes his own life, however, one can assume that Geikins has kept the invention of Akuraters in order to emphasize the isolation of the tragic hero from external forces.
Geikins also has been able to develop most of the supporting characters into three-dimensional entities by providing psychological justification for their pronouncements and actions. These individualized characters, quite often developing further as the action advances, still represent the point of view of their respective camps the pagans and the Christians and, by their own strength, they strengthen our conception of these opposing forces. Good examples are Agita and Caupo's son who both, through periods of doubt and attempting to understand their husband and father, finally become staunch supporters of the pagan point of view. One wonders, however, why the proper name, Berthold, from the Chronicle is not used for Caupo's offspring but only "son" as designation of a type.
The plot of Legend About Caupo very much follows the Euripidean structure: it is "disjointed," and antithetical realities quite deliberately are juxtaposed throughout the dramatic action. The Aristotelian unities of time and place are not observed: the acton of the play extends at least over eight years and occurs in various localities. The play is divided in three acts indicating time lapses of "several years" between Act I and Act II and five years between Act II and Act III. There are nineteen consecutively numbered scenes arranged in a way that creates contrast either as far as the characteristics of the localities are concerned, regarding the actions of the characters, or both. Scene 1, for instance, between Caupo and Ako, an elder and a sage, is played at a Livonian pagan sanctuary, while Scene 2 between Caupo and Dietrich, the German monk responsible for teaching Caupo about Christianity, happens in a cell dominated by a picture of the Virgin Mary. Antithetical realities confront the reader constantly, e.g., in Scene 1, Caupo questions the pagan gods, in Scene 2, he doubts the Christian morality, but in Scene 3, he plays with Agita and their son on a wide, sunny pasture, seemingly unconcerned about the impending events he himself has decided upon. Scene 4 shows us a feast at Caupo's castle and exposes us to the pagan point of view; Scene 5 brings us to the dark chambers in the fortress at Riga where Bishop Albert plots the demise of the pagan forces.
Similar arrangements can be observed throughout the play; however, it should be emphasized that the described arrangement does not follow the principle of thesis antithesis synthesis, often used in the structuring of epic plays. If this principle would be applied, in antithetical scenes or episodes the characters would exhibit a change of attitude (gestus) eliciting alienation and resulting in an intellectual audience's participation. This would work against Geikins' intention to design his tragic hero in a way that would create empathy first and only by the inorganic structure relate back to society and its problems as a whole.
Geikins quite skillfully manipulates the external elements of the drama spectacle and mood. He interchanges consecutive intimate scenes with large crowd scenes; he modifies mood between scenes as well as within a scene. Scene 11 is an excellent example of such manipulation, and a high dramatic tension is achieved by this technique. The scene depicts Caupo's battle against his own castle, Cubbesele, and it starts in half-darkness with Agita and her son observing the battle. The sound of battle gets louder as the Latgallian elder, Rūsinš, together with the former followers of Caupo retreat to safety in the castle. Caupo has promised Agita to save all lives if she opens the gates for him. When inside, he is attacked by Rūsinš whom he refuses to fight, but who is killed from behind by Caupo's companion. There is a lull in the fighting, and Agita approaches Caupo for a reunion after many years. A quiet, though cool, love episode follows, ending by Agita kissing Caupo on his lips. At the same time she pulls a dagger intending to kill Caupo. He twists her arm and the dagger falls, but Caupo's son, who has observed the preceding action, attacks his father with a sword. Caupo, recognizing person, knocks the sword out of reach, however, angrily for his allies, the German soldiers, and orders Agita and his son to be chained. Caupo remains alone in complete silence; after a long pause he throws his sword down and runs away. A long pause again, then a rooster crows nearby. Caupo's companion enters with a torch and sets fire to the castle which ignites with a sudden outburst while people shout in panic. The spectacle is suddenly interrupted by darkness and stillness. As melodramatic as the description may sound, the characters in the scene maintain their tragic decorum and their actions are not exaggerated but correspond with the previously established world of the play.
While operating in the described inorganic structure, Caupo, as created by Arijs Geikins, exhibits the qualities and traits required from an Aristotelian tragic hero, at least as they are understood by the modern critic. Alluding to the classic concept of fate, it is said that what happens in tragedy must happen, but the same can be said by replacing fate with necessity. In the opening minutes of the tragedy, Caupo is aware of his fate and that it is necessary for him to die: "Even Pērkons, Ako, wants my death," he says to Ako, the sage.
"The most important characteristic of tragedy ... is that all significant 'catastrophic' events are caused by the inner dividedness of the protagonist and not by some external force,"8 argues Robert W. Corrigan, supporting his argument with a comparison between King Lear and the Duchess of Malfi. According to Corrigan, both have many things in common, but because Lear is brought down by the dividedness of his own nature while the Duchess, though having inner conflicts, is ultimately destroyed by forces not of her own making and over which she has no control, Shakespeare's play is a tragedy and Webster's a melodrama.
The protagonist in the Legend About Caupo meets this prerequisite fully, as there are many allusions to Caupo's inner dividedness in its first three scenes. It manifests itself in Caupo's questioning of the pagan gods as well as of the Christian morality: "I don't believe them and never will, but it's too difficult to explain my doubts." And even when he has made his choice between two evils, he queries: "To Rome I must, but doubts oppress me if once I won't regret this step." While he questions the ways of reaching it, Caupo never loses sight of the ultimate goal to unite all Latvians in order to keep their lands free from foreigners.
If we align with Aristotle's idea of hubris, Caupo's tragic flaw would be his "overweening pride" in thinking of himself as the most able of leaders who could attain this goal. Geikins, however, gives more substance to his tragic hero. The motivation for Caupo's actions comes from his protest against the limitations of being a human being, and he defies these limitations. There is a tragic contradiction in human existence: man demands freedom, but wills to submit. Only the tragic hero refuses to make such a compromise, and Caupo is doomed not because he has "a tragic flaw" but because he refuses to accept a ready-made fate. Caupo does not submit, he demands freedom but, as he informs us before leaving for Rome, "There are two ways one choice only." He chooses the wrong way. Already then, however, he knows that it will be his downfall: "With my death I want to help my people, it's the only thing still left to me."
The tragic hero must also realize that the consequences he suffers are for having made the wrong choice. The protagonist in Legend About Caupo, after being renounced by his own people, having lost his former friends, deserted by his wife, and having killed his own son, seeks forgiveness but is forsaken by the Christian God. Thus he can exclaim: "If there's no God, then Caupo is a traitor!" This recognition comes at the very end of the play, shortly before Caupo kills himself, pleading: "I wish my error would remain in me!"
We have shown how Arijs Geikins has created an inorganic structure of the Euripidean kind and placed an almost perfect tragic hero in it. He definitely has been more successful than his predecessors using the same legendary figure from Latvian history. While the irrational world with its tribal, national, and religious strifes is constantly present, the tragic conflict arises in and is solved by the tragic hero alone.
We can conclude that a synthesis, or at least a cohabitation, of both initially described approaches is possible and has been achieved in Arijs Geikins' tragedy, Legend About Caupo. The real dislocation, as defined by Arrowsmith, however, happens only if we compare the reality of the material used, e.g., the historical data from The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, with the reality the three Latvian dramatists, concerned with Caupo, created from this old material. In the first reality, Caupo is described as a true believer in Christianity who died as a Christian from a pagan lance. His son and his son-in-law died fighting for the Christian cause, thus suggesting that Caupo had a certain number of converts on his side. Without proof to the contrary, one must assume that Caupo died as a Christian martyr, the first martyr of the Latvians, most of whom had embraced Christianity at the beginning of the twentieth century when the first play under discussion was written. In the second reality, the one presented in the three plays by actions "forced" from the old material, Caupo is a traitor. Although in Geikins' Legend About Caupo this traitor reaches the dimensions of a true tragic hero, one wonders if actually he is not only a scape-goat designed to purge a nation's conscience. A Christian martyr cannot play the role of a scape-goat, therefore, Caupo is cast in the role of a traitor, receiving as payment the honor of being a tragic, though dislocated, hero.
1 H. D. F. Kitto, Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study (New York: Barnes and Nobler, 1961), p. 249.
2 William Arrowsmith, "Conversion in Euripides," in Twentieth Century Interpretation of Euripides' Alcestis. John R. Wilson, ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968). p. 34.
3 William Arrowsmith, "The Criticism of Greek Tragedy," in Tragedy: Vision and Form. Robert W. Corrigan, ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), p. 267.
4 Arijs Geikins, Legenda par Kaupo (Legend About Caupo) in Intervijas (Interviews), Gunārs Bibers, ed. (Riga: Liesma, 1982), pp. 7-105.
5 James A. Brundage, tr., The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1961).
6 Brundage, p. 163.
7 Dzidra Vārdaune, Tragēdijas žanrs latviešu literatūrā (Tragedy as genre in Latvian literature) (Riga: Zinātne, 1973), p. 67.
8 Robert W. Corrigan, "Tragedy and the Tragic Spirit," in Tragedy: Vision and Form (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), p. 11.