Initially published in 1632, Daniel Heinsius’s tragedy Herodes Infanticida proved surprisingly controversial due to the author’s depiction of Herod’s dream in act 4, where the tyrant’s late wife, Mariamne, and the three Furies (Tisiphone, Alecto, and Megaera) haunt him from a distinctly classical underworld. The French critic Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac censured Heinsius on two accounts: first, for mingling sacred and profane figures in a tragedy based on scripture; and second, for expecting audiences to understand the historical complexity of his depiction of Herod’s dream. Balzac privileges spectacle in his competing account of tragedy, paying attention to appearance as well as elegance; because Heinsius’s depiction rests on inappropriate subtleties that tragedy cannot accommodate, the Furies are confusing and unsuitable. At base, then, Balzac and Heinsius fundamentally disagree on the province of tragedy. Heinsius, in response, defended the historical and philological accuracy of his tragedy, claiming that Herod’s affects are represented to him in the dream as aspects of familiar mythoi, pagan and Hebrew, not as allegories but as mental personae or noetic characters appropriate to the figure and period. For Heinsius, moreover, tragedy is a precise philosophical resource, enabling him to investigate aspects of agency and affect that exceed the resources of history and philology; tragedy allows audiences to understand the terms of representation as well as the historicity of affects and actions represented. If philology and history train our attention to languages and events, respectively, tragedy hones our attention to affect and probability, or vraisemblance.

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