Tragedy: Form And Essence Essay

Published: 2019-12-14 02:12:12
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For the more common people, the word tragedy is primarily associated with a bloody accident, death, or any form of sudden physical torture and a painful twist of fate that leave a sorrowful feeling at the end. Feelings of sadness, desperation, grief, hate, anger, and sometimes fear are the most frequent initial reactions of the persons in a so-called tragic situation.

            But, of course, for quite a few people, tragedy does not only entail physical misfortune in the beginning. A person might only be feeling deeply melancholic over nothing in particular and see this already as a very tragic phase of life. However, in this case, we are to discuss and justify the word tragedy in the context of a work of art that is the drama in literature, through the eyes of several authors and literary critics. Besides the definition of tragedy, we are also to evaluate the form, essence, and elements that comprise the subject.

Wrapped up in idealistic freedom of the West, critic and playwright Walter Kerr defines tragedy as an investigation to the possibilities of human freedom.[1] He perceives tragedy as coming from an intensely optimistic culture. He thinks of tragedy as something wonderful that has to be undergone to achieve growth of humanity. In the case of form, he says that the evident demise of tragic art could have been a part of its evolution. Kerr sees human freedom as his very essence or root of tragedy. Here, man is exploring the infinite possibilities of self. Kerr says that tragedy draws its plot and characters from Greek mythology, and that all comedy is rooted from tragedy.[2]

With his libertarian definition, he puts off works as non-tragic if it does not assert freedom and destruction is excluded in a developmental action leading to a renewed life. He states that the three principles of drama are agony, death, and renewal, may it be tragedy or comedy. Aside from that, he says tragic renewal will always involve pain. And this tragic pain is the result of a conflict between the ideal and reality.

He deems that truth in plays must be taken intuitively by an audience rather than intellectually. He sees the play as a way to touch a persons conscience for a single unified response.

In her book, Elements of Tragedy, Dorothea Krook says of tragedy as a presentation of an action or event of universal import engaging a hero, with great importance but flawed, grieving over his flaw. She asserts that other four elements of tragedy are the act of shame or horror, consequent intense suffering, a consequent increase in knowledge, and a reaffirmation of the value of life. However, to a Shakespearean tragedy, she says the elements are the magnitude of heroes, their sufferings, and the catharsis experienced by audiences.

The story in her tragedy ends in a bad note, reflecting the power of some god or destiny, thus, disclosing the meaning of human strife. She says that tragic art should surpass such fundamental human condition and that the protagonist should exemplify fighting spirit. The submissive victims suffering could be tormenting and pathetic, but they are not tragic. Even if the hero or protagonist represents humanity, he should also rise above his fellows. He should be conscious rather than blind of his misery, and that this should be necessarily accepted by both him and ourselves. The hero is reprimanded even though the tragedy is not his own making.

Tragedy acknowledges the moral orders superiority and human spirits dignity, while suffering plus redemptive knowledge strengthens moral laws. A heros courage and endurance transform the mystery of suffering into intellectual awareness and attains reconciliation in the end. She regards final insight as a universal element of tragedy.[3]

Taking from her is the passage that states, In the greatest tragedy, I suggest, what is in the end affirmed is something more than the dignity of man and the value of human life.[4]

In Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, Fredson Thayer Bowers quotes, In the first inception of revenge the injured person alone was concerned with the return of injury. There was no question of right or duty but merely one of the strength¦ With the growth of some sense of social consciousness, there came a corresponding development from force to right in the theory of revenge¦[5]

Signs of tolerance toward revenge were still evident in the tragic drama of the Elizabethan times according to Bowers, especially within the nobility class that holds pride in the concept of individuality and autocracy. Tragedy during this time was composed of horrifying events such as conflict, cannibalism, incest, rape, and violent death. This was due to the influence of the works of the Roman playwright Seneca. Many critics and playwrights persisted that the classical unities of action, time and place should be studied during this time.

In revenge plays, a man becomes even with his enemy; while in passing it over, he becomes superior for the prince has a part to give pardon. However, the choice of pardon is not accepted; justice is taken and the retaliator dies to compensate for his actions. This kind of plays closes with a reflection on futility, waste and loss. Therefore, this leads to the tragic moment of the play.

There was a lack of knowledge in the early plays in Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy. He distinguishes its key innovation as a method in drama to prolong the actions in a revenge tragedy.

In a Renaissance tragedy, a display of depth of vision that penetrates the surface violence or anarchy of life to illumine the underlying pattern and meaning of mans fate[6] suggests Robert Ornstein. He assumes that in a Renaissance drama, in either tragic or comic, there should be divine morality sense and purpose beneath the outward perplexity in life.

As to its revenging hero, Ornstein clarifies that revenging hero has no way of bringing his criminal opponent to justice, either because no proof of the crime exists, or because the criminal is placed beyond the reach of justice, or because justice itself is a mockery in the heros society¦[7]

Recognized as the greatest playwright in English, Shakespeare has contributed some of the most interesting and lasting character in a tragic play. People of high status are usually the victims of his tragic wonder. They receive death by disease, poverty, or even by petty problems. Shakespearean tragedy primarily draws from the hero or protagonists actions, not in ignorant or mistaken act but because these characteristics are innate to him. The characters inner conflicts rather than external struggle are the main focus of a Shakespearean tragedy. An essential prototype of complication, crisis, and conclusion in variations are followed in his tragedy. His imagery was both precise and sustained.[8]

On the other hand, The Medieval Stage book by E.K. Chambers presents a comprehensive survey of medieval theater, describing even the then-obscure folk drama, minstrelsy, and liturgical drama. He theorizes that drama comes from folk festivals, not from religious liturgies. Greatly significant folk festivals are developed to observe such meaningful events. These eventually were formed into drama and their refined dramatic framework attracted a larger audience in the long run.










[1] W Kerr, Tragedy and comedy, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1967, p. 1

[2] Kerr, p. 19

[3] D Krook, Elements of tragedy, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1969, p. 8

[4] Krook, p.14

[5] F Bowers, Elizabethan revenge tragedy, Peter Smith, Gloucester , MA, 1959, p. 3

[6] R Ornstein, The moral vision of Jacobean tragedy, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin, 1975, p. 129

[7] Ibid.

[8] G Wickham, Shakespeares Dramatic Heritage, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1969, p.134

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