Elements of Greek Tragedy As defined by Aristotle
A Tragedy is: It must be acted out, not merely narrated. "the imitation of an action that is serious and also as having magnitude, complete in itself." The hero must be important to society—his struggles are great because he is important. Not about every day events! Tragedies are about spiritual/moral conflicts. The tragedy is a complete story.
The Unities: • The perfect tragedy has Unity of • Time: • Place: • Action: 24 hour time period Only one setting Only one plot—it is not a mixture of tragedy and comedy.
Pity, because the hero is better than we are. We place ourselves in his/her position. We feel empathy. A tragedy must arouse pity and fear in the audience. Fear, because we do not know our own fate.
Catharsis • This arousing of fear and pity—and then the purging of it— is called catharsis. • Note: a tragedy does not create these emotions, it raises them (in other words, they already exist in us).
The Hero of a tragedy is: • A noble man or woman (high social status) • A famous person • Is neither all good nor all bad – the audience has to be able to identify with him/her. • Should be “superior” in some way, to make the end more tragic.
Peripeteia—reversal of fortune • The tragic hero experiences a reversal of fortune. He or she falls from high to low. • The hero suffers this reversal of fortune because of a mistaken action.
Hamartia – “Tragic Flaw” • The hero’s mistaken action is the result of some tragic flaw or tragic error in judgment. • Aristotle called this hamartia.
Hubris • Often the hero’s tragic flaw is hubris. • Hubris = excessive pride which causes the hero to: • Ignore a divine warning • Break a moral law
Anagnorisis—Recognition • Before the hero suffers from the reversal of fortune, however, he/she must experience anagnorisis. • In other words, the hero must recognize his or her mistake. • Thus, especially in Oedipus, it is the recognition of the mistake, rather than the making of the mistake, which ultimately leads to the hero’s downfall.
Though the tragic hero does not always die, the hero’s suffering is often greater than his/her offense.This causes the audience to feel more pity.
Why Read Tragedy? • Catharsis—purging of emotions • Tragedy reaffirms that life is worth living—despite suffering and pain. • Tragedy asks the fundamental question: what does it mean to be? • The tragic hero neither escapes nor accepts fate, but rather fights against it, and meets it on his/her own terms.
Works Cited Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. Malcolm Heath. New York: Penguin, 1997. Print. Dunkle, Robert. “A Guide to the Study of Literature” Brooklyn College English Department. Brooklyn College, 12 March 2009. Web. 26 February 2010. Dunkle, Robert. “Introduction to Greek Tragedy” Classical Origins of Western Culture. Brooklyn College. 1986. Web. 26 February 2010.