An Analysis and Comparison of Modern Tragedy in Drama

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Aristotle thoroughly describes his understanding of the tragedy in the Poetics and bases this conception on certain requirements. According to Aristotle the three most important variables that define a tragedy are plot, characters, and theme. Using Oedipus Rex as a sort of ideal, this philosopher demonstrates how a tragedy functions in order to evoke catharsis while exploring themes and human flaws, or mistakes. In Oedipus Rex, the main figure, Oedipus the King is a subject of fate, unable to escape himself and his desire to uncover the truth. In essence, this drama demonstrates the fall of a prominent figure brought down by his inescapable fortune and self-destruction. I definitely believe it is difficult to find a modern day tragedy that functions on the same level as Oedipus Rex while fulfilling the stipulations laid out by Aristotle. However, to me, the movie Shutter Island sets itself apart from other contemporary works as it mirrors many of the structural and thematic characteristics of Sophocles’ play. In this film, directed by Martin Scorsese, we are introduced to Edward “Teddy” Daniels, a U.S. Martial who experiences the same sort of trauma and downfall as Oedipus the King. Though these characters share many similarities and differences, I think it is most important that we begin by analyzing the plots of these two works in order to divulge their tragic components. As Aristotle states, the argument, or plot, of a tragedy must contain three vital elements: the incentive moment, the climax, and the resolution or dénouement1. The incentive moment represents the initial stage of the drama where the cause and effect chain of events begins its inevitable course. Here, the audience observes the main character as a figure of great importance in his society and setting, though, as the play progresses, this stature will diminish into nothingness. The onset of Shutter Island mirrors that of Oedipus Rex in various manners. 1

Barbara F. McManus, Outline of...
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