The genre of tragedy is quite well theorized unlike many other genre. The theory of
tragedy is as old as 5 th Century BC when the Greek philosopher and thinker Aristotle
wrote his treatise called, ‘Poetics’ analyzing the tragedies by the likes of Euripides,
According to Aristotelian view tragedy as imitates of a serious and powerful action
which is self-sufficient and complete. Tragedy is thus includes elements of dramatic
presentation and evocative language to produce cathartic effect. Generally, it
incorporates powerful episodes of suffering, losses etc. There is a sense of pleasure in
pity and fear that the audiences relish and the whole plot is governed by the aim to
produce such sensory response.
In literature, a tragedy is a drama that shows the protagonist involved in a significant
event and meeting his spectacular downfall. It is dotted with ideas of fate, sacrifice,
destiny and duty. The defeat also urges the hero to search for answers regarding
relationship between human beings and the Creator. Heroes are often taken from myths
and classical literature- flawed but courageous. Downfall or defeat is a function of an
error or weakness termed as ‘harmatia’ (fatal flaw) in his character like pride or
arrogance. There exists a chorus to provide commentary on the action. Greeks believed
that the Fates or Moirai (three goddesses) determine the suffering in one’s life and such
fate was inescapable. Examples – tragedies of ‘Antigone’ or ‘Oedipus’ etc.
The neoclassical theory of tragedy developed in 16 th and 17 th centuries through the efforts
if theorists like Cornellie etc. With Aristotelian unity of action they added two more,
unity of time and unity of place, to form three unities of drama.
The major characteristics of tragedy are:
It is the central pivot of any tragedy and unites all other elements. Plots can be simple or
complex even though complex plots provide room for twists and reversals of fortunes for
In the plot, the tragic flaw of the protagonist causes intensification a complication and it
in turn leads to a catastrophic and tragic end of the character. The various incidents in a
plot exhibit a casual relationship with each other. According to Aristotle, the Plot is the
soul of any tragedy and should elicit pity and fear in the minds of audiences.
Plot provides the outline like in a painting and help lends meaning to the character.
It necessitates a proper beginning, middle and end. Since it aims to imitate an action it
does not have to include all the actions that are experienced by the character.
Character comes in as subsidiary to the plot. It may denote dramatic personalities in the
tragedy or the tendencies of those personalities/people.
Since the main character or the flawed hero is not perfect, he is a mixture of good and
evil. He somebody the ordinary man aspires to become in terms of courage, morality
and strength. It is only such an admirable character who will be able to pity and fear
from the audiences.
The characters must represent true human nature and be loyal to the mythical or
historical personalities they are modeled on. The writer should avoid unrealistic changes
in the characters or their personalities and must stay true to their outline.
Thought is the faculty to enunciate something as appropriate or pertinent, a given
situation or condition. It represents the ideational or intellectual element of a tragic
drama. Example: a sad thought is enunciated for a tragic and melancholy event.
This also includes the various themes depicted in the tragedy which are expressed
through speech. Such speeches are employed to reveal and unravel character/s.
It is the primary mode of imitating the action. It is basically the choice of words or
vocabulary used by the dramatist. Since the chosen words are deemed apt to arouse
feelings in the audiences it is also affects the process of meaning making.
Thus, diction is the expression of emotions through words. These words carry with them
meanings which extract the desired response from the spectators.
Song and music are the condiments used in a tragedy especially the song sung by the
chorus. This group of singers narrates the major events do not occur before the eyes of
the audiences on the stage.
The commentary provides an explanation and breakdown of past events, present
circumstances and future possibilities. Thus, such embellishment intensifies the
dramatic and cathartic elements of tragedy
It is the arrangement of scenes in a tragic drama or a translation of writing into a
sensorial experience through stagecraft. The scene is set by stage machinist or manager
according to the designs of the writer.
It adds a sense of pleasures and emotional appeal to the audience. It enhances the
significance of an event. Addition and execution of spectacular effects can elevate the
theatrical performance to a sensational one.