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Tragedy and Comedy

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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). Here, Oedipus falls from kingship to blindness and exile. Drama’s other great genre, Comedy, is represented by the laughing actors’ mask. In Comedy the action is usually propelled by a problem or crisis of some sorts, but unlike tragedy it usually ends well. Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes, is a perfect example of classic Comedy. The farcical story line follows the title character, who rallies the women of Greece to withhold sex from their mates all in the good cause of ending war. At first glance these two genres would seem to have nothing in common with each other. Comedy entails laughter and good feelings while the audience will leave a Tragedy in tears. But the best of Comedy and the best of Tragedy will produce the same affect: catharsis. Catharsis is the purgation and purifying of the emotions, specifically fear or pity. (“Catharsis”) The plays that manage to produce catharsis in their audience are the ones that we return to time and time again. Although catharsis is one of the main objectives of Greek Tragedy (Jacobus 34), Comedy done well will shape and move its audience in the same way. These two classic genres use characters that are co...

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Works Cited

Aristophanes. "Lysistrata." Trans. Dudley Fitts. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. By Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. 167-87. Print.

Aristotle. "Poetics: Comedy and Epic Tragedy." Trans. Gerald F. Else. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. By Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. 95-101. Print.

"Catharsis” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 20 September 2011.

Freud, Sigmund. "The Oedipus Complex." Trans. James Strachey. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. By Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. 101-04. Print.

Jacobus, Lee A. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. Print.

Sophocles. "Oedipus Rex." Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. By Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. 73-94. Print.