Theater is a natural outlet for our desire to hear and tell stories, and in some ways it is even more primal and powerful than the written word. At its worst, theater will merely bore; while at its best it will not only entertain but move and shape its audience. Two such genres of theater, or drama, have consistently achieved this effect. Tragedy, represented by the weeping actors’ mask, usually features the title character’s fall from greatness to ruin, guided by the gods or fate. Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles, is the epitome of classic Tragedy, as defined by Aristotle (96-101).
Oedipus' character is labyrinthine in the sense that it raises controversies; many readers and critics might look at Oedipus as a hero who is doomed to his tragic end by misfortune and fate rather than by his tragic flaws. At first blush, this looks like a drawback that is enough to render the play inappropriate for an original model of the theory of tragedy. However, as a matter of fact Sophocles' plays contribute much to the formation of the ground on which the theory of tragedy is based. Actually Aristotle lays the foundations for the critical study of drama in his Poetics by drawing on Sophocles' plays most of the time, especially on Oedipus Rex. It is a fact clearly evident from this contextual standpoint that Oedipus Rex and consequently Oedipus, the hero of the play, serve as the most original incarnation--typical example--of the theory of tragedy.
Common Man as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman What is tragedy? While the literal definition may have changed over the centuries, one man believed he knew the true meaning of a tragic performance. Aristotle belonged to the culture that first invented tragic drama – the ancient Greeks. Through this, he gave himself credibility enough to illustrate the universally necessary elements of tragic drama. In The Poetics, Aristotle gives a clear definition of a tragedy, writing that it is “an imitation, through action rather than narration, of a serious, complete, and ample action, by means of language rendered pleasant at different places in the constituent parts by each of the aids [used to make language more delightful], in which imitation there is also effected through pity and fear its catharsis of these and similar emotions.” Basically, Aristotle thinks a tragedy should be witnessed rather than related, use poetic imagery instead of dry language, and have a logical flow with an inevitable conclusion at the end that evokes a heightened emotional response from the audience.
Hamlet: The Element of a Tragedy In 350 B.C.E., a great philosopher wrote out what he thought was the definition of a tragedy. As translated by S.H. Butcher, Aristotle wrote; “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions. . .
This transformation follows an organic movement of the complex plot from the beginning, middle, to the end of the drama while keeping the tragic hero consistent and also real. As the play moves on the audience feels pity for the tragic hero as well as fear for themselves as they watch the event taking place on stage. Othello can be seen as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, because it follows the guidelines set up by Aristotle’s Poetics. As Aristotle’s Poetics states; a tragedy is an imitation of an action of men that is serious and also having magnitude that arouse pity and fear where with to accomplish the catharsis of those emotions. With this definition of a tragedy he also stated the components of the tragedy, ranking them in importance.
Aristotle defines tragedy as: "...a representation of an action that is worth serious attention, complete in itself, and of some amplitude; in language enriched by a variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the play; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity and fear bringing about the purgation of such emotion. (Aristotle 38 - 9) Shakespeare uses character, plot and setting to create a mood of disgust and a theme of proper revenge, as opposed to fear and pity, hence Aristotle would have disapproved of Hamlet. It is the above mentioned elements; character, plot and setting, used in a non- Aristotelian way, that makes Hamlet work as a one of the English language's most renown tragedies. By proper revenge we refer to the Elizabethan view that revenge must be sought in certain cases, for the world to continue properly. This is the main plot of Hamlet.
The fact that they are depicted in this way allows their actions to evoke human sympathy from the audience, the emotions of fear and pity, which are necessary for a good tragedy (Aristotle’s Poetics, 1982). When this is juxtaposed with the performance in A Midsummer’s Night Dream we can easily see that the characters are not played with the same level of seriousness. There are several interruptions and clarifications made during the performance and it takes away from the tragic nature the play is supposed to have. During the performance Hippolyta even says “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard” (Shakespeare, 1993, 5.1.223). Because Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer’s Night Dream were written and being performed around the same time, it was likely that audience members would have seen both, thus making it possible for them to see that the emotions they feel from watching the play is a direct
In addition, the plot should be complex making it an effective tragedy. The second most important element is character. Characters... ... middle of paper ... ...hough the two demonstrate the elements in different ways, they both achieve an effective tragedy. Now after learning about Aristotle’s philosophy on tragedy, one can examine any type of tragic poetry, play, movie and analysis if the elements are portrayed. Its interesting to see how much of Aristotle’s philosophy has effected poetry in the art of the Greek tragedy, Medea, and the modern movie, No Country for Old Men.
According to Aristotle’s Poetics, a tragedy must involve a reversal of fortune of the main character. This character must be of great character and dignity so that his downfall is all the more spectacular which leads to the audience feeling pity and fear; two essential traits required for a drama to be defined as a tragedy. This downfall is triggered by a fatal mistake, or as Aristotle defined, Hamartia. One wouldn’t expect all these qualities to be detected within two mere soliloquies; the entire work is what makes a tragedy. However, the whole work can only be approached through analysis of individual elements and two of these elements are the soliloquies in Act I Scene 2 and Act III Scene 1.
An Analysis of Hamlet under Aristotle’s Theory on Tragedy Aristotle, as a world famous philosopher, gives a clear definition of tragedy in his influential masterpiece Poetics, a well-known Greek technical handbook of literary criticism. In Aristotle’s words, a tragedy is “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude, language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play, the form of action, not of narrative, through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions”(Aristotle 12). He believes that a tragedy should be serious and complete in appropriate and pleasurable language; the plot of tragedy should be dramatic, whose incidents will arouse pity and fear, and finally accomplish a catharsis of emotions. His theory of tragedy has been exerting great influence on the tragedy theories in the past two thousand years. Shakespeare, as the greatest dramatist in western literature, also learnt from this theory.