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A History of Ambiguity$
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Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691167954

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691167954.001.0001

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An Equivocal Smile

An Equivocal Smile

(p.326) Chapter Nine. An Equivocal Smile
A History of Ambiguity

Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Princeton University Press

This chapter traces the flattening of Friedrich Schlegel's new notion of irony into a useful philological tool—dramatic irony—by German and English scholars in the nineteenth century, a process made possible by a new attention to double meanings in Greek tragedy. The result is a kind of ambiguity that is both artificial for the playwright and inspired for the characters onstage. The audience's privileged capacity to resolve the ‘constitutively ambiguous nature of Greek tragedy’ would later provide a powerful model for Roland Barthes's notion of the ‘death of the author’, inspired by the work of the classicist Jean-Pierre Vernant. Nevertheless, dramatic irony originally meant something quite different, hinging not on the audience at all, but on the playwright. The chapter then explains how this change came about.

Keywords:   Friedrich Schlegel, irony, dramatic irony, double meanings, Greek tragedy, ambiguity, playwright, Roland Barthes, audience

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