Tragedy in Drama

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Tragedy and Drama

In a range of dramatic works from Agamemnon to Hamlet, one sees the range of development of the tragic form, from the earliest Greek to the later Shakespearean tragedies. There are two basic concepts of tragedy: the concept introduced by Aristotle in his Poetics, and the concept developed by Frederick Nietzsche in his "The Birth of Tragedy." Many dramas can be reviewed to reveal the contrast between these two concepts of tragedy, and demonstrate the development of the tragic form over time.

The idea of Greek tragedy stems from Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero. In Aristotle's definition, the tragic hero must be a person of high standing so their fall from glory will be all the more horrible. The hero's story must evoke pity for the hero and fear of his fall, so the hero cannot be completely evil. Also, the hero must have a tragic flaw, a characteristic that, in excess, causes him to bring some disaster upon himself, and because of this, he cannot be completely good either. It is important to note that the root of the term tragic flaw is the Greek word "hamartia", which is actually better translated as an error in judgement. Often this flaw or error has to do with fate ­ a character tempts fate, thinks he can change fate or doesn't realize what fate has in store for him. In Agamemnon, the classic Greek drama, Aeschylus demonstrates the concept of the tragic flaw in the character of Agamemnon. While on his journey to the battle at Troy, Agamemnon has to make the choice to sacrifice his daughter for the sake of his fleet. It is this choice that begins the cycle of tragedy. Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, sees her husband's act as unforgivable, and upon his return from battle, she murders him in an act of vengeance.

However, this is not the only revenge taking place. Clytemnestra's lover, whose father Thyestes was tricked by Agamemnon into devouring his own children, also justifies Agamemnon's murder as revenge for the acts committed against his family. So while Agamemnon is heralded as a hero in the battle of Troy, his less admirable side is also revealed. In keeping with the Aristotelian concept of tragedy, Agamemnon is seen as neither entirely good nor entirely bad, thus invoking pity. But his decision to sacrifice his daughter for the good of his fleet and his acts against Thyestes demonstrates the fatal error in judgement that would lead to his fall.

Oedipus Rex is considered by most as the source for Aristotle's ideas about tragedy, as it is a classic example of a hero with a tragic flaw that brings about his downfall. Again, we have a person of high standing in Oedipus, who is neither entirely good nor entirely bad. However, it is Oedipus' pride that pervades as his tragic flaw throughout the play. It is pride that causes Oedipus to believe the rumor of his questionable parentage and further, to go to the oracle. It is again pride that causes him to leave Corinth in attempt to defy the prophecy of the oracle. And pride arguably causes Oedipus to murder the man he quarrels with on the road, who is actually his father, thus fulfilling the very prophesy he had tried to defy. Oedipus Rex demonstrates the belief in fate, that what is ordained shall be, regardless of man's attempt to resist his fate. Oedipus falls victim to having poor judgement and letting his pride make his decisions for him, and this ends up becoming his demise.

Another of the Greek tragedies is Medea, which is one of the few with a female as the title hero character. Medea demonstrates the changing attitude in Greek drama, and introduces a more human aspect to the hero's behavior. In the earlier dramas, the heroes were influenced heavily by fate, and the tragic flaw and eventual downfall often had something to do with fate. However, in the case of Medea, we see the hero as falling outside the realm of divine intervention. Though Medea is wronged by Jason, there is no sense of support...
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