Tragedy refers to a kind of drama with tragic events and having an unhappy ending especially the downfall of the main character. It is a serious play that discusses matters of great importance and that affect human beings. Tragedies are also plays that have a series of unfortunate events and in most cases, the main character undergoes several misfortunes which make the play end in a great disaster.
For example, in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the main characters Romeo and Juliet fall in love. However, they cannot love each other, as their families are sworn enemies. This relationship causes members of the two families to fight. As Romeo intervenes, he kills Juliet’s relative. Romeo is banished. Finally, as the two lovers try to reconnect, each thinks the other is dead. Hence, they both commit suicide.
Some tragedies end in the death or frustration of the main character and in some, the main protagonists fall from a high position to a low position in society. These characters mainly fall due to a number of reasons. It may be because of faults within their own personalities; or because of fate. Their fall may also be caused by the gods that have decreed their fall; and sometimes, a combination of all of them.
Most playwrights of tragedies depict religious aspects of gods, supernatural powers and beings as controllers of the fate of human beings. There is a central character called the protagonist who is the point of focus. He or she is either the hero or the villain. The disaster directly affects this character either due to personal fault or unavoidable circumstances.
Tragedies get their format and content from various aspects of some stories in Greek Mythology. They take origin in ancient Greece towards the end of the 6th century BC. Tragedies were popular and the most performed dramas in theatres. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are regarded as the most influential playwrights of tragedies as their works have continued to be performed for several centuries since their premiere. Sophocles and William Shakespeare, the English playwright, are credited for writing the greatest plays of tragedy. Famous works of tragedy include Shakespeare’s like Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Coriolanus, among others. Sophocles tragedies include Oedipus the King, Antigone, Ajax, Oedipus at Colonus and Electra.
Characters in tragedy
Tragedies unlike most plays, have very few characters. The major character is called the protagonist. The protagonists usually suffer greatly out of flaws in their own characters. Sometimes, they suffer out of forces greater than they can control.
In tragedies, the protagonist is the character depicted to have good admirable traits. He or she is usually the hero or heroine. A hero in a tragedy is usually a tragic hero and he/she is great. However, this hero is not perfect. His or her own downfall is partly his or her fault. The hero’s misfortune is not wholly deserved. Hence, the reader will sympathize with him or her.
The villain in tragedies could be an individual or a group of people against the victim who is the general recipient of the tragedy. Villains exhibit villainy – wicked or criminal behaviours. An antagonist is the character brought out as mean and majorly tramples on the good character in the play.
Common stylistic devices used in tragedy
In tragedies, like most of the literary works, imagery is used when describing situations and the emotional disposition of the various characters while the use of foreshadowing gives a prediction of an oncoming occurrence or an impending tragedy. Flashback is employed for character and plot development or when recounting on a past event.
Suspense is also used. It creates tension most especially in the end after the tragedy has taken place and no resolution is made; rather, the effects are not, if at all, explained. Tragedies mostly do not follow the logical sequence of happenings rather, end in anticlimax.
Common themes in tragedies
Tragedies explore the place of religion, the quality of one’s character, and the power of fate on the lives of people. As such, most tragedies will focus on themes such as love, pain and suffering, death, religion among others.
In Oedipus the King, for instance, love is depicted by the fact that the king and queen love their newborn son so very much they are unable to kill him as directed by Tiresias. They, therefore, task a servant to go kill him. The servant is sympathetic towards the small innocent child and abandons him in the bushes. In Corinth, the king and queen shower their newfound child with so much love and care that he grows up without ever realizing he was adopted. It is for the love of his kingdom that king Oedipus finally gorges out his eyes and exiles himself. By doing this, he knows that it is the only way to save the kingdom from the calamity it now faces.