Bestowed Upon J. Parker Shepherd
Nearing the Anniversary of
His 92nd Birthday
A brass figlagee with bronze oakleaf palm
for Jean Parker Shepherd
(Idea conceived by J. Shepherd,
designed and crafted by E. Bergmann,
photographed on a bed of excelsior by J. Clavin .)
THE TRAGEDY OF JEAN SHEPHERD
I have frequently thought about the tragedy of Jean Shepherd. The heights of his talent and his failure to achieve what he felt he deserved. Most recently, I’ve returned to thinking about and reading of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould—that sometimes inexplicably difficult genius. He recognized what he had and he pursued it despite advice and the taking of the easier, more popular path. He did not live in poverty, although it might have seemed like it to some. He lived and created as his thoughts and instincts led him. Gould died young while still immersed within his chosen activity. Shepherd died old and disgruntled, having forsaken the field of his higher genius. What does it take to be a saint and what is tragedy? What is the nature of the classic form of tragedy? I looked it up.
The Characteristics of an “Archetypal” Tragic Hero
Noble Stature: since tragedy involves the “fall” of a tragic hero, one theory is that one must have a lofty position to fall from, or else there is no tragedy (just pathos). Another explanation of this characteristic is that tragedies involving people of stature affect the lives of others. In the case of a king, the tragedy would not only involve the individual and his family, it would also involve the whole society.
Tragic Flaw: the tragic hero must “fall” due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride). One who tries to attain too much possesses hubris.
Free Choice: while there is often a discussion of the role of fate in the downfall of a tragic hero, there must be an element of choice in order for there to be a true tragedy. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another.
The Punishment Exceeds the Crime: the audience must not be left feeling that the tragic hero got what he deserved. Part of what makes the action “tragic” is to witness the injustice of what has occurred to the tragic hero.
Hero has Increased Awareness: it is crucial that the tragic hero come to some sort of an understanding of what went wrong or of what was really going on before he comes to his end.
Produces Catharsis in Audience: catharsis is a feeling of “emotional purgation” that an audience feels after witnessing the plight of a tragic hero: we feel emotionally drained, but exultant.
THE TRAGEDY OF JEAN SHEPHERD
WHICH BEGINS HIGH ON THE MOUNTAINTOP,
CONTINUES WITH FLAWED DECISIONS
THAT AT FIRST SEEM RIGHT AND PROPER,
BUT, FROM THE HEIGHTS OF PARNASSUS,
CAN BE SEEN AS A TRAGIC FAILURE
TO ACHIEVE WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.
(More to come.)