2 A brief definition of Tragedy Tragedy is a branch of drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual.
3 Origins/History of Tragedy Original Greek: tragodia (“goat song”) from Dionysian festivalsTragedy from its beginning has dealt in universal themes of death and disaster connected with seasonal rhythmsOriginal Greek tragedies were performed by a chorus; later the tragic hero developedAeschylus was the first playwright to use dialogue
4 Tragic TheoryAll Greek tragedy drew from familiar myths of gods and men; therefore the story was already knownThe point of tragedy was not (and is not) to find out what happens, but rather to discover and learn from the changing awareness and responses of the characters involved – often resulting in ironyMany, if not most, major tragic events happened off-stage and were then commented upon
5 Qualities of TragedyThe plot follows the hero’s involvement in an intolerable yet inescapable situation, the result of will, circumstance, ignorance or obligationHero eventually battles the inexorable fate that ensures an unhappy outcomeThe experience is not entirely negative: it exposes human grandeur and dignity in extreme circumstancesAudience feels both ennobled and chastened – and achieves katharsis through tears
6 Development of Tragedy Romans (esp. Seneca) essentially stole Greek tragedy and made it more sensational (and often more violent)Elizabethan playwrights (Kyd, Marlowe) followed in this traditionBritish adventurism (New World, etc.) influenced the Elizabethans, especially Shakespeare, to include a new topic: the rewards and perils of the over-ambitious hero’s individual achievement and discovery (pride derived from Greek hubris)
7 Shakespeare’s Great Tragedies Shakespeare went beyond the drama of his time to present an imaginative vision of evil and of the resources with which man confronts evil in his extremityShakespeare’s tragic heroes are prominent but imperfect (Hamlet, Lear) and therefore serve as both compelling individual and symbol of societyShakespeare’s trajectory as a writer took him from the social individual (comedy) to the burdened individual (history) to the overburdened individual (tragedy)
8 Shakespearean Tragedy: An Outline A noble heroBegins in a state of happiness & good fortuneEnds in a state of miseryThrough both fate and his own fault (tragic flaw)The outcome is inevitable once the hero sets off on his path to destructionOrder is re-established by a minor but noble character