Definition According to the Classic Greeks • According to Aristotle who first defined it, tragedy is “the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself.” Tragedy typically includes “incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions.”
Examine the Classical Definition • Tragedy imitates a serious action – typically in dramatic form. Novels and stories can also possess elements of tragedy but the term is generally applied to drama. • Tragedy arouses pity and fear in the audience creating a catharsis of these emotions. • catharsis – a release of emotions or emotional tension – often through purging or immersing oneself in situations that cause the emotions.
More on the Definition of Tragedy • Tragedy stresses the vulnerability of human beings whose suffering is brought on by a combination of human and divine actions, but is generally undeserved with regard to its harshness. This genre, however, is not totally pessimistic in its outlook there is often a revelation about society or human beings that is presented.
Plot and Structure of a Tragedy • According to Aristotle, "the plot is the soul of tragedy" and the plot is communicated to the audience primarily by means of words. When reading a classical tragedy you will need to use your imagination as much as possible in order to compensate for those theatrical elements lost by simply reading the drama.
Tragedies Contain a Single Plot • The best tragic plot is single and complex. A single plot contains one fate that applies to all parties involved in the drama. In contrast to a double plot "with opposite endings for good and bad"--a characteristic of comedy in which the good are rewarded and the wicked punished.
A Complex Plot • A complex plot includes reversal and recognition. • Reversal in the plot refers to the change in fortune or situation for the tragic hero – His or her situation changes from good to bad by the end of the drama.
Structure of a Classic Tragedy • Classical tragedy has a characteristic structure in which scenes of dialogue alternate with choral songs. This arrangement allows the chorus to comment in its song in a general way on what has been said and/or done in the preceding scene.
The Tragic Hero • Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. • Hubris – excessive pride or arrogance
More about the Hero • The tragic hero's powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty such as flaws in reason or hubris, • Or the limitations placed upon him/her by society, the gods, or nature. • Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake. The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition .
Recognition • In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle quite nicely terms this sort of recognition "a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate."
Resources • http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/classics/dunkle/studyguide/tragedy.htm • http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/Tragedy.htm • http://web.mala.bc.ca/atkinsona/classical_tragedy.htm