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What Is Tragedy? Essay, Research Paper

Tragedy is defined as an extremely sad or fatal event or course of events; a story, play, or other literary work which arouses terror or pity by a series of misfortunes or sad events. The first important tragedies appeared in ancient Greece in the 400s B.C. with works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. There were various views of tragedy and Aristotle, Richard B. Sewall, Arthur Miller, and Robert Silverberg each had their own different views.

Aristotle laid down the basics principles of tragedy in his Poetics. He wrote that the purpose of tragedy was to make the audience feel pity and fear for the characters. Aristotle believed that tragedy brought about a catharsis of his emotions. Catharsis is something that arouses solemn emotions, but is not depressing. The hero of any ancient Greek tragedy was a great man who suffered because of a tragic flaw, or error in judgment. The hero was a person of noble stature, but was responsible for his or her own

downfall. The fall is a not pure loss. There is some increase in awareness, some gain in self-knowledge, and some discovery on the part of the tragic hero.

Arthur Miller s Death of a Salesman is one of his best-known plays, but it created a big controversy. I believe that the common people are as apt subjects for tragedy in its highest sense as monarchs are (Miller 16). Miller believes that the main character does whatever he has to do to secure his personal sense of dignity. Pride goes along with this, which is also a major part of many of Miller’s view.

Another view of tragedy, according to Arthur Miller, is the “tragic flaw” that the main character has. The tragic flaw is the characteristic that the character has that makes him fail, anything. The character fails because he tries to overcome this flaw, but does not succeed. In the past, especially in the era of Sophocles and Euripedes the tragedy involves royalty and the upper class, and doesn’t have anything to do with the common man. Miller believes that the common man is equal to, if not better than royalty as the subject of a tragedy.

Robert Silverberg believed that the deaths of Roger Zelazny and John Brunner provided an illustration of the meaning of tragedy. One death seems to me to have been truly tragic, and the other not tragic at all, but rather simply a damned shame (Silverberg 4). He believed that the word tragedy was overworked. School fights, traffic accidents, and AIDS are all examples of tragedies, but they are not a traditional tragedy in literary terms. Greeks defined tragedy as a hero who tries to achieve a great thing, but fails because of a flaw in their character. The audience also experienced a catharsis.

Silverberg believed that Shakespeare knew the meaning of tragedy also. He compared King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Prometheus, Agamemnon, and Oedipus to the lives of Roger and John. This that the life and death of one of these men fulfills the requirements of classical tragedy, and one does not (Silverberg 8). Roger was the happy man who led a happy life. His death was ironic and could not be considered as a tragedy in literary terms. John s decline, which came from bad choices and bad health, led to his downfall.

Richard B. Sewall explained his view of tragedy in The Tragic Form. Tragedy makes certain distinguishable and characteristic affirmations, as well as denials, about the cosmos and the man s relation to it; the nature of the individual and his relation to himself; the individual in society; (Sewall 166). Cosmos is the theory of the universe and humanity s relationship to it. Writers of tragedies assumed the existence of a power beyond humanity, such as God. Good and evil were both forces in cosmos. Tragedies were more concerned with evil, but the belief in good kept the hero from giving up.

Sewall calls the tragic man a paradox , something that seems contrary to common sense and yet may nonetheless be true. He is always in the middle of a delicate balance between opposing conditions. The tragic man is also recalcitrant, stubbornly disobedient of authority or restraint, difficult to manage. His recalcitrance is a result of his pride, which allows him to believe in his freedom, innocence, and uncommon sense.

The tragic character always protests, putting himself against something. He puts himself in a position that forces him to go up against whatever would frustrate him. The character accepts his conflict and goes through a phase Sewall calls the character s perception. He proceeds, suffers, and in his suffering learns (Sewall 174). Through his experiences, the tragic character is elevated to a level above ordinary people.

I believe that a tragedy is anything that has a dreadful outcome. It concerns a series of unhappy events that usually end in disaster. I can agree with any of these previous views on certain parts, especially Aristotle since he laid down the basics of a tragedy. Richard B. Sewall s view was a little different than the other writers, but they still all had common beliefs. Each believed in pride and some sort of tragic flaw. I don t know if the word tragedy is overworked though, like Silverberg thought. Miller s view that the character fails because he tries to overcome a tragic flaw, but does not succeed is also a meaning of tragedy to me.

Everyone is entitled to their own their opinions and views. Each of these writers had their own views, but had the Greek definition of tragedy in common. If you ask anyone what tragedy means, they will probably say when something bad happens. Now we can see that there is more to it than that.

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