Evolution of 'Tragedy' in English Drama

Tragedy as known in Dramas is one of the earliest forms of Drama that you can trace back in the history of Drama. With the passage of time ‘Tragedy’ continued to be redefined in history by many famous philosophers as well as playwrights. Both leading us to the present day contemporary Drama which portrays Tragedy in a whole different aspect as compared to the past.

The beginning of Tragic Drama first took place in Greek culture. The well-known stories and myths were the main sources of inspiration for the Tragic plays. The features of the Greek Tragic Drama were as followed. The play involved few actors who themselves played several characters on-stage. There was a norm that tragedy and comedy were never supposed to be mixed. The play strictly followed the three unities in drama known as the unity of place, unity of action and unity of time.

I will now talk about the description of Tragedy in Drama as approached by the early philosophers as well as modern day playwrights. Thus, proving the variations and evolution that took place in the Tragic category of Drama.

As first defined by the great Greek Philosopher Aristotle, a Tragic Drama was a good Tragic Drama if it followed the certain rules as laid out by the Philosopher. The first rule describing the characters of the Drama. According to Aristotle the character had to be good but not too good. This was because the main purpose of the ‘Tragedy’ play was to evoke feelings of pity and sympathy and not any other. This purging of emotions was what he called Catharsis. He also talked about presence of Hamartia in the lead character, which refers to the presence of flaws that later paved way to the tragic aspect of Drama known as the downfall of the protagonist. Aristotle also believed that apart from all this, the action of the play itself had to be proper and of high magnitude.

Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the great poets and writers of the middle English times, gave us why the subjects of tragedy were of ‘High Society’. He explained that the idea of tragedy was to show falseness of human power and wealth. Unlike Aristotle he believed that humble and meekness were the feelings that had to be purged out through tragic plays.

G.W. Hegel a modern philosopher stressed that ‘Tragedy’ in English Dramas had to have a moral conflict. A conflict between two rights.

The present day modern dramas are highly influenced with the ideas of William Shakespeare about Tragedy in Dramas. William Shakespeare was one of the first playwrights to break away from the restrictions about Tragedy as described by the Greeks, the early philosophers and the playwrights. Though he still followed Aristotle’s concepts of tragedy to some extent but he did not completely follow all of his ideas with regard to Tragedy.

The modern-day Dramas today revolve not just around people of high society but also around the stories of ordinary people, leading to a more realistic feeling in Tragedy. It also breaks away the norm of Tragedy not being mixed up with others genres of Drama. Thus, providing the audience with a combination of genres and a great source of entertainment and learning through Dramas.

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