Everywhere: Comedy and Tragedy Are Two of These"
Report of an Aesthetic Realism class
by Lynette Abel
Siegel began the lecture of March 24, 1971 titled, "Words Are Everywhere:
Comedy and Tragedy Are Two of These," by saying:
The unconscious of man has
always tried to put together these everyday opposites: Why do I feel so
bad and why do I want to be so cheerful? It hasn't been done
but I think there are events in the world that show there's more interest
To place this subject culturally, Mr. Siegel
gave examples of how in the history of drama the relation of comedy and
tragedy has changed. "In Greek drama," he said "the two were
kept pretty much apart." Later, French critics, "including
Voltaire, were appalled that in Shakespeare's Hamlet the gravedigger towards
the end of the play could make jokes and sing. That was the
first saying in a tragedy" he continued, "that deeply there is a oneness
between the tragic and the cheerful." And he explained:
As powerful, moving evidence for this, Mr. Siegel
read the first act of the 1924 play Juno and the Paycock by
the Irish playwright, Sean O'Casey, which he said "can be considered as
well as any to show how the unconscious of man wants to put his laugh and
his sob together as two opposites of the world.” To show some
of the critical thought Sean O'Casey gave this subject, Mr. Siegel read
from the book Drama: The Major Genres edited by Robert Hogan and Sven Eric
Molin. They quote O'Casey saying:
This matter of comedy and tragedy
they are two words as important as any because they are about every person's
life. My purpose is to show that poetry begins with words and
that words fully seen tell what comedy and tragedy are about and how they
"And these of course" said Mr. Siegel, "are the
opposites that affect people most: joy and sorrow." And he asked
"What relation do they have?" Turning to the play, he said "The way
in Juno and the Paycock the shoddy and the tawdry mingle with the
grand, and the laughable with the unendurable is notable."
In this lecture he showed something completely new about the relation between
these opposites when he explained "It is not just comic relief--it is too
inherent in the play."
As for blending "Comedy with Tragedy,"
it's no new practice. ... And, indeed, Life is always doing it, doing it,
doing it. Even where one lies dead, laughter is often heard
in the next room. There's no tragedy that isn't tinged with
humour, no comedy that hasn't its share of tragedy if one has eyes
to see, ears to hear. Sorrow and Joy are sisters ....
Juno and the Paycock
takes place in 1922, in the Boyle family living room in a poor tenement
house in Dublin, at the time of the civil war in Ireland.
I love how Mr. Siegel described the characters, getting to their essence
in a few sentences showing how the comic and tragic are in them.
For instance, about the father, Captain Jack Boyle, the paycock (meaning
peacock), Mr. Siegel said:
Johnny, their son, who is in the Irish Republican
Army, was wounded badly in the war, losing an arm and having a leg crippled.
He, we learn later, has helped to end the life of another young man by
telling on him, betraying him. Johnny is described by O'Casey
as: having a tremulous look of indefinite fear in his eyes.”
Mr. Siegel commented:
He is ridiculous and he is sad.
He is a person who quite sanely doesn't want to work; he would rather make
speeches. He says he has a pain in his legs which is possible....
There is also something likably exuberant about him. (His wife,]
Juno is steady and strong.... She is the one who bears [things], though
she does give it to her husband.
The Boyles also have a daughter, Mary, who O'Casey
He is so selfish and so incapacitated.
This is something people have endured….
The factory she works at is on strike.
Her father, Jack Boyle, has been out of work for a long time.
Mr. Siegel said compassionately, “Casey says the thing that history teaches
and I agree with him is that people haven't been given a chance.”
as a good looking girl of 22.
Two forces are working in her mind one, through the circumstances
of her life, pulling her back; the other, through the influence of books
she has read, pushing her forward
Early in Act
I, Mrs. Boyle, waiting to give her husband breakfast, says impatiently
to her daughter Mary:
here for Part 2
Isn't it terrible to have to be waitin'
this way! You'd think he was bringin' twenty poun'd a week into the house
the way he's going on. He wore out the Health Insurance long ago, he's
afther wearin' out the unemployment dole, an', now, he's thrying' to wear
out me! An' constantly singin', no less, when he ought always to be on
his knees offerin' up a Novena for a job!