Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Arts


This thesis argues that the quest for self-fulfillment is the recurrent motif of the three major dramatic eras of Western tragedy. This theme is a continuous but transforming tradition in which tragic heroes endeavor to approximate a more complete degree of self-realization respectively through outward action, inner imagination and an inaction that is also a reflective struggle to find meaning. Discussions of tragic theatre in the West have generally concentrated on a degenerative process of Western tragedy in terms of progressively atrophied dramatic action and gradual manifestation of passivity, nostalgia and nihilism. This thesis aims to show that, although the major course of transformation is from action to inaction, under the light of the continuous motif of the quest and the degree of success by which the characters approximate the wished-for selffulfillment, Western tragedy is a regression in order to progress.

To demonstrate a connection across Western theatrical history, I look in turn at the three major dramatic eras of the Renaissance, the nineteenth century, and twentieth-century existentialist/ absurdist stages. The regressive progress of Western tragedy from the Renaissance active quest to the imaginative quest of the nineteenth-century dramatic characters is demonstrated through Nietzsche’s understanding of Dionysian phenomenal-self forgetfulness, inwardness, suffering and rebirth. Such a progressive course is also evident when the seemingly negative inaction of the Absurd dramatic characters is viewed through the author’s own cultural background, considering the very basic mystic concepts of self-annihilation and self-realization.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.