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Tragedy Literary Terms Source: C. Hugh Holman’s

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1 Tragedy Literary Terms Source: C. Hugh Holman’s
A Handbook to Literature Fourth Edition

2 These terms will be defined:
Tragedy Tragic hero Hamartia or tragic flaw Hubris Catastrophe Catharsis Tragic irony Comic relief Crisis Pathos Pathetic figure or fate Nemesis

3 Tragedy… In drama, tragedy refers to the kind of play defined by Aristotle in his Poetics upon his observations of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.

4 Tragedy continued It involves a series of events in the life of a person of significance which culminate in an unhappy catastrophe. The narrative is treated with great dignity and seriousness.

5 Tragedy continued The purpose is to produce an emotional catharsis in the audience.

6 Tragedy continued Pity and fear may be aroused by spectacle or by the structure and incidents of the play, the latter of which being the better one such that plot is “the soul of a tragedy.”

7 Tragedy continued The protagonist is a tragic hero who is neither purely good, nor extremely faulty, but is admired above the ordinary person. This virtuous person is brought from happiness to misery.

8 Tragedy continued During a period of monarchy, Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists were kings and rulers. In other eras, dramatists have made the tragic heroes other types of persons.

9 The Tragic Hero Someone of distinction, having admirable qualities, and is neither extremely faulty nor purely good. Possesses a tragic flaw…

10 Hamartia The tragic flaw or error in judgement that brings about the protagonist’s downfall. It is often hubris…

11 Hubris Overweening pride, which means an excessive sense of self-worth, ability, or control. Arrogance may blind the protagonist to the truth, or cause him to become less vigilant in a high-stakes situation. Since the tragic hero is often high born and in a position of authority, his error not only brings him personal misery, but has negative effects on his subjects.

12 The Catastrophe The conclusion of a tragedy; the final stage in the falling action ending the dramatic conflict, winding up the plot, and consisting of the actions that result from the climax. It usually is used in connection with a tragedy and involves the death of the hero. It is the denouement.

13 Catharsis According to Aristotle, the objective of tragedy is “through pity and fear effecting [sic]the proper purgation (catharsis) of emotions” in the audience. At the time, this had medical significance—viewing the tragedy unfold to its catastrophe, the audience member, purging an excess of emotions, then returns to a state of balance and emotional health.

14 Tragic irony A form of dramatic irony in which a character in a tragedy uses words which mean one thing to him or her and another to those better acquainted with the real situation (i.e., the audience), especially when the character is about to become a victim of Fate.

15 Comic relief A humorous scene, incident, or speech in the course of a serious fiction or drama that provides relief from emotional intensity and, by contrast, heightens the seriousness of the story. Can enrich and deepen the tragic implications of the action. Though not a portion of Aristotle’s formula for a tragedy, it has been almost universally employed by English playwrights.

16 Crisis The point at which the opposing forces that create the conflict interlock in the decisive action on which the plot will turn. Crisis is applied to the episode or incident wherein the situation in which the protagonist finds himself or herself is certain either to improve or to grow worse. Though not limited to the plot of tragedies, it is noteworthy to avoid confusion with the common usage of the word.

17 Pathos From the Greek root for suffering or deep feeling, pathos is the quality in art and literature which stimulates pity, tenderness, or sorrow in the reader or viewer. In its strict meaning, it is closely associated with the pity tragedy is supposed to evoke; however,…

18 Pathetic figure or fate
In its common usage, pathos describes an acquiescent or relatively helpless suffering or the sorrow occasioned by unmerited grief, as opposed to the stoic grandeur and awful justice of the tragic hero. Hamlet is a tragic figure and Ophelia a pathetic one. Lear’s fate is tragic, Cordelia’s pathetic.

19 Nemesis Divine retribution when an evil act brings about its own punishment and a tragic poetic justice prevails. From the Greek goddess of retributive justice or vengeance. An agent or an act of merited punishment, so it often becomes synonymous with fate, although a latent sense of justice is almost always associated with the term.

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