Tragedy and Poetry
Since its inception in ancient Greece two millennia and a half ago, tragedy has never faded out. It is true that there were periods when other forms of entertainment or other types of drama eclipsed tragedy, but it has never failed to maintain the interest of both dramatists and philosophers. It is noteworthy that tragedy has often been written in verse; the use of prose as the medium of tragedy is only a recent phenomenon. This chapter is a survey of the history of tragedy from its birth in Athens twenty-five centuries ago up to the first half of the twentieth century. This chapter also hopes to explore some basic theories of tragedy from Aristotle to Nietzsche. The views of the twentieth century upholders of poetic drama, e.g T.S Eliot and Maxwell Anderson will be examined.
It is important to note that tragedy can transform experience and history into meaning, and the shock of significance may have the power to transform us. Tragedy lies in our expectation that knowledge might emerge out of the human suffering.
If we go back in history we can see that tragedy witnessed four great periods; fifth century BC in ancient Greece; The Elizabethan and Jacobean period in England; the seventeenth century in France; and the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century in Europe and America.
To start with, the word tragedy refers to a work of art that probes with high seriousness questions concerning the role of man in the world. The ancient Greeks first used the word in the fifth century B.C to describe a certain type of play, which used to be presented in ceremonies in Greece. The government paid for these dramas, which were attended by the whole city. The topics of the performances show that they focused more on the religious aspect of the celebrations than on entertainment. There were altars to the gods with the presence of priests, and the subjects of tragedies deal with the failures of the heroes of legend, religious myth and history. Works of art in this period relied heavily on the works of Homer and common knowledge in the Greek communities (" Tragedy " www.britannica.com, 12.Sep.2012).
Even the most sketchy description of ancient Greek tragedy cannot do without referring to Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles and what they contributed to tragedy. Any writer who would write about tragedy has to refer to Greek tragedy. Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays can still be read and performed in various theatres. Other Greek tragedians include Sophocles and Euripides. He was born in 525 BC and died in 455 BC. He is often described as the father of tragedy; our knowledge of the genre begins with his work and our understanding of earlier tragedies is largely based on inferences from his surviving plays (Freeman 243). He wrote about ninety plays such as Oresteia, Seven against Thebes, Prometheus Bound, Supplicants and The Persians. Among them, he is well known with his trilogy Oresteia. In Oresteia, Aeschylus presented a trilogy like Oedipus' trilogy. The three-act drama dealt with sin, revenge, and reconciliation, Prometheus's punishment is the predictable consequence of defying the supreme deity. All of the elements of tragedy, all of its cruelty, loss, and suffering are presented in the works of Homer and the ancient myths but were dealt with as absolutes-self sufficient and without the questioning spirit that was necessary to elevate them to the level of tragedy (Bushnell 11).
Aeschylus and his fellow tragedians made great achievements in handling the nature of existence. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were famously known as Athenian dramatists who maintained a vivid sense of the reality of their character's knowledge. In the fifth century BC, they learned from their tragedies the possibilities and...