The Modern Battle of Carnival versus Tragedy

by suu4leaf

I first came across the idea in my 3rd year. Professor Tambling had this as the title of his course – Carnival versus Tragedy, and it was only after I graduated with an A- from Professor Tambling, when I continued my journey with Renaissance culture in London, that I learnt of it as a common motif in Renaissance Europe, as manifested in Pieter Bruegel’s signature Flemish Peasant painting. The colourful and comic battle scene between the lustful Carnival as a fat man and dolourful Lent as a lean hag strangely juxtaposes with that sadness about the present life of sin and sufferings, and nonetheless, the post-feudal-pre-modern, turn-of-century anxiety and loss.

It is not strange at all that I should be intrigued by the idea of Tragedy, by the concepts of Melancholia and philosophical brooding, by the image of Prospero, head drooping, renouncing his magical power in that awe-inspiring scene. It is not at all strange, since my disposition is nearer that old hag than the jolly fat Falstaff, who likens more to introspection, to repression, to gloominess. One needs either be so brave or so insensitive as to overlook the sad truths about existence, which the old hag embraces fully. And yet too much of the old hag does one no good in this modern world, and in my days staying in Lady Ho Tung Hall I forced myself to lay aside that impractical sensibility and behave like Falstaff – not a riotous drunkard, but one who faces the world with the brightest of hopes and be ever progressive.

And yet my Carnival battles with my Tragedy nonetheless. I am happy to be confident, to be daring, to be active and whatsoever I was not in my earlier years. But still I cannot totally extinguish my tendency to brood, to feel like escaping from all that is going on outside. Sometimes I manage and sometimes I do not. Something disquieting is going on within me – Tragedy is getting the better of me. And perhaps it is time I take a break, and when I come back, hopefully my Carnival and Tragedy will start their battle anew.

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