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Tragedy In Drama

Powerful Essays
Tragedy and Drama

In a range of dramatic works from Agamemnon to Hamlet, one sees the range of development of the tragic form, from the earliest Greek to the later Shakespearean tragedies. There are two basic concepts of tragedy: the concept introduced by Aristotle in his Poetics, and the concept developed by Frederick Nietzsche in his "The Birth of Tragedy." Many dramas can be reviewed to reveal the contrast between these two concepts of tragedy, and demonstrate the development of the tragic form over time.

The idea of Greek tragedy stems from Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. In Aristotle’s definition, the tragic hero must be a person of high standing so their fall from glory will be all the more horrible. The hero’s story must evoke pity for the hero and fear of his fall, so the hero cannot be completely evil. Also, the hero must have a tragic flaw, a characteristic that, in excess, causes him to bring some disaster upon himself, and because of this, he cannot be completely good either. It is important to note that the root of the term tragic flaw is the Greek word “hamartia”, which is actually better translated as an error in judgement. Often this flaw or error has to do with fate ­ a character tempts fate, thinks he can change fate or doesn't realize what fate has in store for him. In Agamemnon, the classic Greek drama, Aeschylus demonstrates the concept of the tragic flaw in the character of Agamemnon. While on his journey to the battle at Troy, Agamemnon has to make the choice to sacrifice his daughter for the sake of his fleet. It is this choice that begins the cycle of tragedy. Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, sees her husband’s act as unforgivable, and upon his return from battle, she murders him in an act of vengeance.

However, this is not the only revenge taking place. Clytemnestra’s lover, whose father Thyestes was tricked by Agamemnon into devouring his own children, also justifies Agamemnon’s murder as revenge for the acts committed against his family. So while Agamemnon is heralded as a hero in the battle of Troy, his less admirable side is also revealed. In keeping with the Aristotelian concept of tragedy, Agamemnon is seen as neither entirely good nor entirely bad, thus invoking pity. But his decision to sacrifice his daughter for the good of his fleet and his acts against Thyestes demonstrates the fatal error in judgem...

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... influence over the events of the tragedy. Similarly, in Hamlet, the other characters are much more complex than in Greek tragedies, and the interactions of the characters, which may represent their communities as a whole, greatly impact the eventual outcome.

From Agamemnon to Hamlet, we have discovered the progression of the form of dramatic tragedy. We can see the evolution from the earlier Greek tragedies, that focus on divine intervention and vindication for acts that displeased the gods, to the very humanly emotional Hamlet, whose eventual realization of his own responsibilities introduce an entirely new concept to the tragic form. This dramatic range demonstrates the differences between the concepts of tragedy as defined by Aristotle, who believed all tragedy stemmed from some fatal flaw in the character of the hero and that of Nietzsche, who believed the concept of tragedy focused more on the community than on the character of the hero alone. These dramas also represent the evolution of the art of dramatic writing from the earliest Greek authors through Shakespeare, who virtually reinvented tragedy and elevated the art of dramatic writing to the form we know it as today.
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