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Tragedy Essay Essay, Research Paper


Over the course of time, many things tend to change significantly. Such is the case of tragic literature and the cathartic effect it has on the reader, which has deteriorated a great deal from Sophocles? writing of the true tragedy, Oedipus. Hamlet exemplifies partial decomposition of catharsis whereas Miss Julie epitomises an almost total collapse of the cathartic effect. It is assumed that the higher the status of the tragic hero, the easier for the 1990?s audience to identify the character?s tragic flaw. The ?identity? refers to the ability to relate to the situation or idea. The higher social status of the protagonist in Oedipus and Hamlet allows an easier level of reader identification that that experienced in Ghosts, which is made by examining stages two and three of catharsis.

The higher social status of the protagonist in Oedipus and Hamlet allows a higher level of reader identification than that experienced in Miss Julie which is made evident by examining stage two and three of catharsis. The classic tragedy, Oedipus tells the story of the King of Thebes, Oedipus who foolishly tries to challenge fate and evade prophecy, which proclaimed that he would murder his father and marry his mother. When trying to free Thebes of a plague he discovers that the prophecy had, in fact come true and he did murder his father and marry his mother. According to Aristotle, there are three elements in stage two of catharsis (The cathartic moment), which includes the highest of misery, the fall of shields, which protected him from an ultimate truth about himself, as well as the hero?s moment of enlightenment. The play Oedipus displays three elements of the cathartic moment very well. Oedipus? highest point of misery occurs after he realises that the prophecy had come true and he discovers that his wife, Jocasta has hung herself in her bridal-room after she finds out that Oedipus was her son. A messenger tells the chorus of the incident in the following quote:

She died by her own hand? cried to her husband Laius in the grave, with mention of that seed whereby he sowed death for himself, and left her a son to get her fresh children, shamefully. So wept she for her bridal?s double woe husband of husband got, and child of child?. And there we saw Jocasta. By a noose of swaying cords, caught and entwined, she hung. He [Oedipus] too has seen her ? with a moaning cry looses the hanging trap, and on the ground has laid her. Then ?oh, sight most terrible-He snatched the golden brooches from the Queen? lifted them and struck. Deep to the very founds of light.

Oedipus?s grief over the completion of the prophecy and the suicide of Jocosta is so deep that she plunks out his eye s that he would not see the ?wrongs he suffered?. The shield that had protected Oedipus from the truth from the beginning was his pride. Before the palace of Thebes, when the prophet Teiresias had accused Oedipus of murdering Thebes? previous king, Laius, Oedipus? pride would not allow him to see the truth of the prophet?s words, which is evident in this quote:

Teiresias: Thou seekest, and thou art, the murderer!

Oedipus: A second time that slander! You shall rule it!

Teiresias: Shall I add more to make thee rage the more

Oedipus: Add the all you will. Say on. Tis? wasted breath (PG 66)

When Oedipus is accused of the crime by Teiresias, he is blinded from the truth by his pride, which would not allow him to believe that he may have killed Laius and caused harm to fall on Thebes. Oedipus would rather believe that Ceron and Teiresias are trying to discredit him so that Ceron could have the throne, instead of listening to the truth from the prophet. Both the fall of Oedipus? shield of pride and the moment of enlightenment occur at the same time when Oedipus is questioning the hardsman at the altars before the royal palace at Thebes:

Hardsman: If you are the child he saith, no man is more unfortunate.

Oedipus: Alas! It comes! And all is true! Light!

Let me look last on thee, for I stand naked now. Shamefully was I born: In shame I

wedded: to my shame I slew (PG 85)

Oedipus has finally accepted tat he murdered his father, Laius and married his mother as his pride falls and he is enlightened to the truth. Not only are all of the necessary elements of the cathartic moment present in Oedipus, which conforms almost perfectly to the true tragic form as outlined by Aristotle, but also, Oedipus, who is the king of Thebes, is of a high social status compared to the average reader. Aristotle?s requirement of a single tragic flaw is also present in Oedipus, which adds to the result of a very high level of reader identification. The reader is able to see that if a man of such social status as Oedipus with only one major flaw was able to fall, then they, who have many flaws and are of a lower social status would be able to fall much more easily. The cathartic effect which is presented almost perfectly in Oedipus, is not as effective in Hamlet, as it does not follow all of Aristotle?s criteria, although it still possess some reader identification. Hamlet is a story about a prince (Hamlet JR.) who is told by a Ghost (Hamlet Sr.) that his uncle (Claudius) had killed his father and married his mother. Thus, Hamlet seeks to take revenge on his uncle however his procassination resulted in a catastrophic end. Hamlet does not cohere to all of Aristotle?s criteria for stage two of catharsis, because there is no actual cathartic moment. Hamlet?s falling of shields occur before his highest of suffering and moment of enlightenment. Hamlet?s moment of enlightenment and fall of shields occur almost at the end of the play. (Act 5, Sc. 2), his shields fall when he tells to Horatio that how his life is going along:

How all occasions do inform against me

And spur my dull revenge? Now whether it be

Bestial oblivion or some craven scruple

Of thinking too precisely on th? event?How stand I then,

That have a father killed, a mother stained

Excitements of my reason and my blood,

And let all sleep, while to my shame I see

The imminent death of twenty thousand men

That for a fantasy and trick of fame

Go to their graves like beds, fight for plot

Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,

Which is no tomb enough and continent

Hamlet?s highest point of suffering (emotional) occurs when his mother and Ophelia die:

Hamlet: I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up my sum?.

Queen: No, no the drink! O, my dear Hamlet!

The drink, the drink! I am poisoned.

Hamlet: O villainy! Ho!

When Hamlet realises that his mother had died he feels very depressed and he suffers (emotionally) due to this event. Hamlet was more depressed when Ophelia, his love died, because Ophelia was his true love and he would not gave up his relationship with if he had forty thousand brothers. However, his physical suffering occurs when he dies

O, I die, Horatio?

Hamlet procassination led to many tragedies where his love and his mother died and eventually caused his own death. Furthermore his mother?s death caused him to be enlightened by his procassination:

Heaven make thee free of it. I follow thee——–

I am dead, Horatio. -Wretched queen, adieu. ——

You that look pale and tremble at this chance,

That are but mutes or audience to this act,

Had I but time (as this fell sergeant, Death,

Is strict in his arrest), O, I could tell you____

But let it be. —Horatio, I am dead.

Thou livest; report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied

Hamlet?s procassination of his revenge lead to his tragic flaw after realising that his mother as well as Ophelia both died. This caused his greatest point of suffering emotionally however his physical suffering occurs when he dies. Furthermore the moment of enlightenment occurs after his greatest point of suffering. Ironically, his shields fall before either of these elements which reduce the cathartic effect. The deterioration of the true tragic form is evident in Hamlet?s inability to produce a sound tragic effect. As with Oedipus, Hamlet is a prince, which is relatively high social status, so the reader should be able to identify to some degree in that they may be more prone to catastrophe as they are of a lower social status with possibly as many as or more flaws. It is evident that because of the decreases of the number of cathartic elements present from Oedipus Rex to Hamlet, the reader identification will be much weaker in the latter. The dilapidation of the cathartic effect over time, which is evident in Hamlet, is even more visible in Ghosts.

Henriek Ibsen?s play Ghosts depicts the story of a mother whom is preventing her son to arise his father?s existence in him. The cathartic moment in Ghosts is poorly done, as there is no highest point of suffering. There is the point of greatest misery, where all her shields fall when she is faced to tell the ultimate truth about the lies she had been telling Oswald and about her reputation in the community, which is illustrated in the quote:

Oswald: ?The sun. The sun?

Mrs Alving: I can?t bear it; I can?t bear it! Never!

Mrs. Alving approaches Oswald to ask him what was the aspect that was making him worried. Oswald relaxed and sitting in his chair; his face expressionless, his eyes have a glassy stare while Mrs. Alving is quivering with terror. Then she falls on her knees and shakes him, however he looks at her and she shrieks. Oswald reveals the ultimate truth about himself. This is the greatest point of misery and the moment of enlightenment because at this point, Mrs. Alving was finally aware that all her plans to expel her husband from her life were hopeless dreams. Also, she had to admit that all the things she tried to avoid from happening were actually took place in real life. Mrs. Alving social status is extremely low compared to that of Oedipus or Hamlet, as she is a prideful lady. The reader identification level is low due to the ineffective elements of the cathartic moment, the flaw of domestic pride, which is guilty of, as well as her low social status. Many readers would tend to feel contempt for this protagonist, and they would have great difficulties in identifying with his one major flaw. The deterioration of the cathartic effect is not only evident through reduction in cathartic elements present, but also the lack of pity and fear visualised by the audience. The higher the social status of the protagonist in Oedipus and Hamlet allows a higher level of reader identification than that experienced in Miss Julie which is made by examining Stage 3 of Catharsis. Oedipus, which is an example of a tragedy in it?s truest form evokes both the feelings of pity and fear from the audience through the protagonist?s undeserved misfortune and the reader?s ability to identify with his tragic flaw. In Oedipus, the height of Oedipus? undeserved misfortune occurs after Jocasta?s death and his self-inflicted blindness, when he opts to uphold his proclaimed banishment of the murderer of Laius for the good of Thebes, which is shown in the quote:

Aye. For me?Nothing is left for sight. Nor anything to love:

Nor shall the sound of greetings any more fall pleasant on my ear

Away! Away! Out of the land, away! Banishment, Banishment! Fatal

Am I, accused, and the hate on me as no man else, of the gods

His misfortune was so great from the fact that not only did he discover that he had inadvertently murdered his father and married his mother, but he also lost Jocosta to suicide, lost his sight and his home as he is banished from Thebes. Since Oedipus is not an evil man he did not deserve his misfortunes and that?s why the reader feels pity for him. The reader is also able to feel fear in that they can identify with Oedipus? single flaw of pride, as they recognise familiar possibilities in their own lesser and fallible lives. The point at which the reader could identify strongest with Oedipus tragic flaw occurred when he killed Laius and his men at the ?meeting of three ways? when they accosted Oedipus, which he describes to Jacosta in the palace of Thebes:

I passed close by that meeting of three ways.

And there a herald met me, and a man that

Drove steeds and a car, even as you have

Said. The leader and the old man too were

Fain to thrust me rudely from the road. But I

When one led the horses jostled me,

Struck him in anger. This the old man saw,

And, from the car-watching for me to pass-

Dashed down on hois forking goad full on my

Head-but paid me double for it. Instantly, out

From the car, my staff and this right hand smote

Him and hurled him backwards to the ground

And all of them I slew.

Since this type of occurrence was not uncommon in Oedipus? time where the value of human life was not as high as it is today, the reader would be able to identify with his need to retaliate to save his pride. For example Jason Lee was forced into similar situation in January 1993 when he was accosted by 2 teenagers when he was walking down a road, minding his own business. These two teenagers, thinking they were rally tough, refused to let him pass on what they deemed as ?their side walk? and even pushed him and assaulted him. Jason who had some knowledge in martial arts, could not let this injustice go unpunished, as his pride would not allow it, so he struck all three of them down. Although he did not kill these youths, as he would go to jail because of his society ?s laws, he did hurt them, so that his pride would not be hurt any further. After this occurrence, Jason could identify with Oedipus very easily because, if he were in the same situation as Oedipus, he probably would have done the same thing. Jason was also easily able to identify with Oedipus, even though he was of higher stature, because Jason felt that if great man like Oedipus killed in anger and hurt pride, without restraint, then he, who is of a relatively lower social status, would most likely resort to fisticuffs much more readily. Oedipus is an excellent example of a true tragedy, as it has the ability to evoke the emotions of pity and fear from audience. The amount of pity and fear evoked from the audience appears to deteriorate in Hamlet in comparison to Oedipus. Although, Hamlet does realise Aristotle?s requirement for the protagonist to not be an evil man, the amount of pity felt by the audience for Hamlet is very limited because of the fact that he really deserved his misfortune. Hamlet was foolish enough to wait until he killed Claudius because he thought that a man should not be killed when he is praying because the person killing will go to hell. Therefore he procassinated and because of this action the tragedy occurred:

Now might I do it, now he is praying

And now I?ll do?t

And so he goes to heaven?

When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?


Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent

When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage

Hamlet did not deserve to die with his mother and his love Ophelia but his uncle marrying his mother and killing his father leads the reader to feel some pity for Hamlet, albeit not nearly as much as they would for Oedipus, who deserved non e of his misfortune. Hamlet is able evoke a great amount of fear from the audience because of the fact that he procassinated which lead to his tragic flaw which conforms perfectly to Aristotle?s criteria. Hamlet was foolish to think that by delaying the death of his uncle he would go to heaven. The play describes Hamlet?s flaw not as the problem of the individual at all, but as something greater and even more mysterious, as a condition for which the individual himself is apparently not responsible, any more than the sick man is to blame for the infection which strikes and devours him, but which nevertheless, in its course and development, impartially and relentlessly, annihilates him and other innocent and guilty alike. Hamlet did not deserve to die, although his father (Ghost) lead him to his tragic flaw, therefore the reader should be able to feel pity and fear, albeit not nearly as much as they would for Oedipus, who deserved none of his misfortune. Hamlet is able to evoke fear a great amount of fear from the audience because of the fact that he has one major flaw i.e. his procassination to kill Claudius, which conforms perfectly to Aristotle?s criteria. The less flaws present the less remote the possibility that a reader will be able to identify with Hamlet?s flaw. It is possible that a reader will be able to understand why Hamlet?s followed the ghost because of the revenge that every child faces when someone does wrong to their parents, which is illustrated when Ghost approaches Hamlet:

Ghost: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

Hamlet: Murder?

After Hamlet procassinates for Caludius?s vengeance his tragedy begins to unveil. He unveils this by losing the chance of killing his uncle when he was praying His emotional feelings towards fate of death for claudius is overcoming his vengeance and therefore realises a fictional feeling that if he kills his uncle during his prayer he would not go to heaven however this aspect is counterbalanced when Hamlet fails to accomplish ?Thou shall not kill?. Many readers will be able to identify with Hamlet?s emotional feelings and his procassination of his vengeance about his uncle, as everyone has done procassination sometimes and their emotional feelings have taken over their actual mind. Once reader was able to identify with Hamlet?s flaw when he was in a similar situation last spring when finishing his major project (ISU). His ISU was on Monday however his ISU was given three weeks before. He started just 2 days before the deadline and due to his behaviour and time management skills he procassinated therefore he could not finish the mark and that resulted in a fail in his final mark. In this instance, Fahad was ignorant of the time given to time and therefore procassinated because of his behaviour which ended in a failure to his mark, so Fahad is quite able to comply with Hamlet?s flaw. Although Fahad was able to identify with some aspect of hamlet?s flaw, many readers would be able to identify with his flaw because most of our generation seems to take every thing to the latest, which makes the possibility of reader identification large. The amount of reader identification, which decreased from Oedipus Rex to Hamlet, decreases to an even greater degree with Ghosts. Ghosts hardly evokes any emotions of pity and of fear from the reader as the protagonist?s misfortune is deserved, and she has many major flaws. The greatest amount of Mrs. Alving misfortune was with her error in judgement was to go with what she thought was her duty and to go with the social standards and beliefs of ancient timers.

In the following quote:

I ought never to have concealed the facts of Alving?s life. But at the time I as afraid to do anything else, afraid on my account. If people had to come to know anything, they would have said, ?Poor man! With a runaway wife, no wonder he kicks over the traces.?

Mrs. Alving wanted her child not to live the same life as her father did so she sent him away. However, this action counterbalanced on her instead he became his father?s photocopy, which was Mrs. Alving greatest misfortune, and she deserved it. Aristotle?s criteria for pity states that ? The tragic hero moves us to pity because, since he is not an evil man, his misfortune is greater than he deserves.? Mrs. Alving does not exhibit many qualities of an evil women, her misfortune isn?t greater than she deserves because she brought her misfortune upon herself by first sending her son away for a period of time, furthermore she told a huge lie to him by inundating with aspects such as Orphanage, (supposed to promote Mrs. Alving place in the community, the estate and the letters she wrote to Oswald about Mr. Alving. She was just trying to protect her son with a white lie but bit by bit it caught up to the real story and finally she had to tell the truth which occurred the downfall of Mrs. Alving. Mrs. Alving misfortune is justified as punishment for her crimes to her son so there is no pity felt for Mrs. Alving by the reader. Ghosts does not evoke pity however it evokes fear. In Ghosts the use of ? white lie ? is the most common flaw to mankind. Once reader Shams-UL-Islam was able to identify with this flaw when she was in a similar situation in the winter of 1992, when he decided not to show his mid-term report card. He kept doing this for the next couple of report cards when these marks were going for university they parents saw it and then he got scolded. Therefore, it comes a time when you try to hide something and it always backfires on you. Mrs. Alving has one major flaw, which was her domestic pride. As with Hamlet, and Oedipus, the possibility of reader being able to identify with one of them is common. The emotions of pity and fear evoked from the reader by Ghosts is presented well, which represents to some degree deterioration of the reader identification from Oedipus, Hamlet and Ghosts.

The deterioration of the tragic form is quite manifested from comparing a true tragedy Oedipus, with Hamlet and Ghosts, both of which resembles some signs of dilapidation from the true tragic form. The high social status of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, coupled with all of the elements necessary for the cathartic moment allows a high degree of reader identification. As the number of cathartic elements present diminishes with Hamlet and Ghosts along with the decrease in protagonist?s social status the strength of the reader identification also declined to almost some degree non-existence in Ghosts. The amount of pity and fear observed by the reader for Oedipus really did not deserve the amount of misfortune that was brought on him, and the reader was able to identify with his single flaw of pride. The amount of pity and fear decreased for Hamlet and Ghosts as both of them had a single flaw and however Mrs Alving deserved her misfortune whereas Hamlet didn?t which diminishes the chances that a reader will be able to identify with the flaws. In conclusion it appears that in tragedy, as the social status of the protagonists and the number of tragic elements decline, combined with an increase or no change in flaw(s), there is a weaker level of reader identification, which was made by examining Stages 2 and 3 of Catharsis.


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