“In the old style”: The tragic vision in Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime

Leonard Mustazza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime has been praised for its striking originality of conception, particularly its unique use of language, music, and spectacle. A few critics have noted, however, that beneath the novel surface lies a more conventional play, a tragedy of classical proportions. Indeed, Tooth does contain a number of features common to classic tragedies, including a larger‐than‐life hero who has become isolated from the community, the hero's gradual discovery of his own human limitations, and the violation and reestablishment of a political order. Unlike Shepard's other protagonists, who are portrayed in what Shepard calls “a fractured whole,”; Hoss is a recognizable and coherent character, a doomed “king,”; who recalls such classic tragic figures as Sophocles’ Oedipus and Shakespeare's Richard II. Like them, he is flawed and doomed, but like them, too, he is admirable, and out of the admiration we come to feel for him, Shepard builds a tragedy for our times. In this regard, Tooth is, paradoxically, Shepard's most conventional play insofar as it differs radically from the others in his canon and his most conventional in that it operates along dramatic lines that are reminiscent of earlier tragic visions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-285
Number of pages9
JournalText and Performance Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1989

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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