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IMRE MADÁCH (1829-1864)

Hungarian dramatist Imre Madách was born at Alsó-Sztregova in 1829. He’ took part in the great revolution of 1848-49 and was imprisoned; on his return to his small estate in the county of Nógrád, he found that his family life had meanwhile been completely wrecked. This only increased his natural tendency to melancholy, and he withdrew from public life till 1861, devoting his time mainly to the composition of his chief work, Az ember tragoediája (“The Tragedy of Man “). John Arany, then at the height of his fame as a poet, at once recognized the great merits of that peculiar drama, and Madách enjoyed a short spell of fame before his untimely death of heart disease in 1864. In The Tragedy of Man Madách takes us from the hour when Adam and Eve were innocently walking in the Garden of Eden to the times of the Pharaohs; then to the Athens of Miltiades; to declining Rome; to the period of the crusades; into the study of the astronomer Kepler; thence into the horrors of the French Revolution; into greed-eaten and commerce-ridden modern London; nay, into thc ultra-Socialist state of the future, when all the former ideals of man will by scientific formulae be shown up in their hollowness; still further, the poet shows the future of ice-clad earth when man will be reduced to a degraded brute dragging on the misery of his existence in a cave. In all these scenes, or rather anticipatory dreams, Adam, Eve and the arch-fiend Lucifer are the chief and constantly recurring personae dramatis. In the end, Adam, despairing of his race, wants to commit suicide, when at the critical moment Eve tells him that she is going to be a mother. Adam then prostrates himself before God, who encourages him to hope and trust. The diction of the drama is elevated and pure, and although not meant for the stage, it has proved very effective at several public performances.

Concerning Madách there is an ample literature, consisting mostly of elaborate articles by Charles Szász (1862), Augustus Greguss (1872), B. Alexander (1871), M. Pahigyi (1890), and others.

This article was originally published in Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1911.

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