Tragedy is a literary genre that addresses the sorrowful downfall of the protagonist. Often depicting a 'tragic hero' whose character flaws and/or extreme bad luck bring about their ruin. In recent texts however, writers often portray protagonists as being of social insignificance and removing the tragic flaw to suggest their complete powerlessness in the face of modern challenges. Overall however, most tragedies attempt to highlight questions of existence and the relationship between man and other forces of nature and the universe.
The blind Oedipus commending his children to the Gods - Bénigne Gagneraux 1784
Tragedies were a very popular form of drama for the ancient Greeks. During this time, tragedies involved protagonists who were powerful and influential, with fulfilling lives. During the course of the drama however, the protagonist's life was turned upside down and they often suffered the most extreme sorrow and agony. This fall from happiness to pain, high status to low, is essential to the tragedy genre because it makes the suffering more poignant and distressing.
In addition to this, Tragedy in literature often includes:
- A tragic flaw of the protagonist's - this weakness is often the reason for their downfall.
- Unhappy ending - often heartbreaking, some tragedies end in death, often in destruction and some in chaos. However, the protagonist almost always accepts responsibility for their actions and mistakes and fights for a larger cause. For the reader, this response leads to catharsis.
- Loss - the protagonist often loses almost everything due to their mistakes and great flaw.
- Catharsis - for the reader, seeing the character lose everything and accept responsibility for their actions, thus retaining their goodness often causes relief in the audience. A renewed hope for humanity.
- Isolation - in later examples, the protagonist is often depicted as becoming estranged from the world around them. For example, in Romeo and Juliet the two main protagonists slowly lose everyone else they were once close to. This isolation leads to the misunderstanding that causes both of their deaths.