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Exemplarity and MediocrityThe Art of the Average from Bourgeois Tragedy to Realism$
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Paul Fleming

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804758901

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804758901.001.0001

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The Average Audience (Lessing on Bourgeois Tragedy)

The Average Audience (Lessing on Bourgeois Tragedy)

(p.42) Chapter 2 The Average Audience (Lessing on Bourgeois Tragedy)
Exemplarity and Mediocrity
Stanford University Press

In The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche declares that when the “man of everyday life” assumes the tragic stage, it spells doom for tragedy—and with it great art. This chapter examines bourgeois tragedy by focusing on Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Hamburg Dramaturgy (1767–1768). In particular, it considers the theoretical underpinnings of lending “dear mediocrity” a tragic nimbus as well as the aesthetic-ethical stakes of wanting to move an audience to feel compassion. The chapter discusses Lessing's theory as well as his correspondence with Friedrich Nicolai and Moses Mendelssohn. It also analyzes bourgeois tragedy's rejection of sublime, public heroes in favor of common, domestic protagonists and how it aesthetically enacts the end of the age of heroes while ushering in the age of the common man. Finally, the chapter explores how Lessing establishes theater as the educative arena for converting an average audience into an exemplary public and considers his view that it is the common hero, not the exceptional one, who instigates exemplarity.

Keywords:   Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, exemplarity, mediocrity, average audience, bourgeois tragedy, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Hamburg Dramaturgy, compassion, heroes, common man

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