Tension in Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of dramatic expression based on human suffering, which causes an audience to have catharsis or to feel strong emotional relief. The Greeks and the Elizabethans are notorious for writing many tragedies. Two prime examples from these eras are Sophocles’ Antigone and William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Antigone is the tragedy of a brave sister who tries to honor her brother, while Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy based on love and being loyal to others. In both plays there is tension between private and public, which can be illustrated by comparing Kreon and Caesar’s fear of public opinion, the betrayal between characters, and concept of hamartia.
In both Antony and Cleopatra and Antigone tension between private and public is illustrated from Caesar and Kreon’s fear of public opinion. In the fourth act of Antony and Cleopatra Mark Antony commits suicide, forcing the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra to surrender herself and her kingdom to the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, Octavius Caesar. Caesar, who does not think highly of Cleopatra, wishes to exhibit her as a trophy of war “in Rome, as […] mechanic slaves with greasy aprons, rules, and hammers” (Shakespeare V. ii. 210). However in order to avoid public misery, Cleopatra decides to commit suicide. On the other hand in Antigone, the ruler of Thebes, Kreon becomes insecure of public opinion when his son Haimon questions his authority and how to rule the city. Tension builds between father and son, causing an angered Kreon to respond by asking whether “the city [should] tell me what commands to give?” (Sophocles 794). Here Kreon is explaining that he is the only person in control and therefore making his opinion the only one that counts. Kreon’s insecurity blinds him, leading to an unfortunate series of events. All in all, in both cases insecurity has proven to be a grave cause of dramatic tension between private and public.