‘Tragedy: a play in which the protagonist falls to disaster through the combination of personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal. ‘ This is one of many conceptions of tragedy, but to what extent can it be justified as being its own? Certainly, this is a definition, when applied correctly in all its capacity will be true – but only of a limited era. Tragedy has been the influence of the greatest plays written by contemporary, and prior play writes, and with reason.
After an evolution, which spanned over two thousand years, this genre has established a reign in its turf far more distinguished than that of horror or comic types. Throughout history, many writers have tried to define tragedy, but this has proved nearly impossible as the criteria for tragedy is always evolving, as are the audience. Therefore, a pandemonium has for a long time surrounded the issue of its definition. There are three essential definitions of tragedy throughout time, where most, take place at three different stages in the development of tragedy.
These have established and evolved around Greek tragedy, Shakespearean tragedy, and Modern tragedy. Each period saw the development of a special orientation and emphasis, a characteristic style of theatre. In the modern period, roughly from the middle of the 19th century, the idea of tragedy found embodiment in the collateral form of the novel. Our greatest conceptions of tragedy are derived from the ancient, classical, Greek tradition. The three major writers of tragedy of 6th to 5th Centuries BCE were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. In their plays, they dealt with their religious interpretations of human destiny in the tragic mode.
Classical tragedies have one basic principle, in that man is subject to inevitable suffering, as a part of his situation in life, and eventually death. Inscribed in this notion, is another, whereby man shows that in the face of his suffering he is able to maintain his dignity. In doing so, the protagonist suffers extreme agonies but bears it simply because in the process he will perhaps maintain human dignity, and by so doing shows the capacity of human beings to be able to transcend that suffering and show the inherent greatness and nobility of mankind.
Greek philosopher Aristotle looks at tragedy and tries to develop a theory for what all tragedies must have. He looks at the tragedy, and identifies a number of characteristics, which will arouse the feeling of tragedy. With the rise of Christianity in the Western civilisation, this classical conception of tragedy became untenable. In Christianity, such ideas are forbidden, because if a man is virtuous but suffers in the world, then he is redeemed after his death, and is recompensed for his good in the world. The wicked, and those evil will be subject to everlasting damnation.
That, in itself is not tragedy in its breadth, but could be turned into a similar profile had there had been nothing after. Tragedy in the medieval age [notably the sixteenth century] was a time where everything would be controlled by religious conception, and as its result, tragedy became reduced to the conception of the wheel of fortune. It was, through chance that every person was liable to suffer, irrespective of his or her spiritual merits. A person could fall from prosperity to its antonym with the most harsh and merciless decree.
Tragedy was written, as a direct consequence about these ideas, and no sooner did it suffer a rebirth of the tragic mode during the renaissance. Christopher Marlow was the first to write a tragedy after this renovation. He is thought of, as the contemporary of Shakespeare in the perspective of modern sceptics, as he dealt with controversial subjects on stage during that time. His first tragedy was, ‘The Tragical History of Dr Faustus. ‘ In this production, a character forgoes his chance for eternal happiness for the sake of earthly ecstasy.
This, in its own rationale, connotes a feeling of tragedy. In this era, most tragedies were called ‘tragedies of blood,’ and the whole play would consist of a character finding out about a great injustice, and throughout the play would seek that justice by revenge. More often than not, tragedy in this age was a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force [as destiny] and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror. Shakespeare, in many of his plays [Macbeth and Hamlet the more namely of others] incorporated such ideas to produce auspiciously powerful results.