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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M042-3
Version: v3,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

Article Summary

Tragedy began in ancient Greece as a type of dramatic performance. Its adaptations and transformations as a genre are an important part of literary, critical, and performance traditions in Europe and the United States and, to a degree, around the globe. ‘Tragedy’ also characterises a type of plot or a way of seeing the world in nondramatic poetry (‘lyric tragedy’) and some films and novels (for example, Moby Dick). In general, ‘tragedy’ is applied to representations of human suffering in an unpredictable and intractable world, brought about in spite of or even because of an individual’s efforts to fulfil their responsibilities to family, community, or to uphold their personal dignity.

The fifth-century bce works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are the original exemplars of tragedy as a dramatic genre. Aristotle, writing a century later, offers a definition and explanation of its significance, stressing how plots give rise to pity and fear and how suffering may occur as an unforeseen result of the protagonist’s actions. French neoclassic tragedy, like other works following in this tradition, emphasises more formal constraints of time, place, and action. Shakespearean tragedy provides a different exemplar containing characters who are not nobly born, speeches in prose as well as verse, and comic scenes. Lessing and Ibsen also produced drama that was more realistic and involved characters representing ordinary people, rather than the nobly born whose choices have broad social ramifications. In the nineteenth century, Hegel proposed that tragic plots essentially involve a protagonist’s struggle with conflicting duties, and his views constitute a second philosophical paradigm for tragedy and the tragic. The twentieth century debated the viability of the genre for modern times. Debate continues over whether tragedy as a genre is applicable to dramatic, filmic, and literary creative works outside the West, though Greek and Shakespearean tragedies are continually modified and adapted to express a variety of experiences and traditions around the globe.

Citing this article:
Feagin, Susan L.. Tragedy, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M042-3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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