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This week: Tragedy in the Drama GenreEdited by: Sarah
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A tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude. A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end.
Welcome to this week's Drama newsletter. Your editors are Joy , Kittiara , NickiD89 and myself. I hope you enjoy the newsletter, and remember - we'd love to hear from you, so feel free to let us know your thoughts about the Drama genre. If you have any items you'd like to submit for inclusion in our newsletters please send them to us.
Greek tragedy described the ruin of an important person, usually through fate. Mythology and religion feature strongly in Ancient Greek dramatic tragedy. Over time, the genre evolved so that by the Elizabethan era in the 16th century tragedy implied the death or destruction of a noble person because of a character flaw. Today’s tragedy story is often more focused on a dismal life rather than death. The character’s flaws eventually lead to death, destruction or some other degradation.
To understand the origins of tragedy means we should refer to the roots of this form of drama. Aristotle claimed that a tragic hero must be a person of high standing, so the fall from grace would be all the more terrible. His story must evoke pity from the reader, who should also feel concerned at the fall. This means the hero should not be completely bad or evil. He should also have a tragic flaw in his character that, in excess, will bring disaster. This flaw means our hero is not completely perfect or good. This flaw can be associated with fate, meaning the hero does not know what fate has in store for him, or he believes he can change fate.
Aristotle’s idea is still relevant today, although tragedy has now changed so writers don’t need to focus on the gods and goddesses so commonly featured in Greek mythology. Today’s hero should have his flaws – after all, he’s only human! There’s a range of resources available for our hero to endure, from one or more of the seven deadly sins to more modern issues like drug or alcohol abuse. Our hero might be rebelling against his family or society... perhaps he’s fallen in with a bad crowd, and has to deal with the consequences of his actions.
Willy Loman, the main protagonist in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, is an average 63 year old man. The charm and charisma of his youth has faded, leaving a man no longer able to get by on his personality. He recalls his life and his relationships with different people in different flashbacks, which begin to merge as his mental state deteriorates. Without giving away the end of the story, I can say the real tragedy for me is Willy’s inability to understand his son’s feelings and the pointless sacrifice he believes will fill his son’s material needs.
Tragedy drama often places a character in an extraordinary situation, where the individual’s self-destructive behaviour produces adverse and unpleasant results. Modern tragedy has expanded so the genre reflects the tragedy not only of strong, noble characters, but of the weak, mean and cruel. The central character is typically a person with whom readers can empathise and sympathise. This character is called “the protagonist”, and is usually attempting to achieve something good, but is hampered by unexpected disasters and challenges. It is very important for a writer to ensure readers have empathy for a character, which means ensuring the flaw does not become more important than the individual. The flaw affects the character and the choices that are made, but it is not the main protagonist – it’s a difficult, contributing factor in the story.
Jodie Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” features Anna Fitzgerald as the main protagonist, a girl who was born so she could save her older sister Kate’s life. When Anna is 13 years old she is told to donate a kidney to Kate. She refuses, and takes her parents to court to win the right to manage her own medical conditions and make her own decision regarding the donation of her kidney. During the trial the reason for her decision finally emerges, surprising everyone including the reader. The shocking twist at the end of this story adds even more tragedy to the family’s feuding – again, I won’t give away the ending for readers still to discover this fine writer’s work.
In conclusion, I have one further observation to make regarding tragedy in the drama genre. Horrific events like 9/11 and war and natural events like earthquakes and hurricanes can be excellent settings for a tragedy, remember these events are NOT the tragedy of your story. These terrible events are tragic, but if used should add to the tragedy of the person or persons caught up in the moment, rather than become the main tragedy. Always remember: tragedy is about people. Tragedy in drama includes conflict, action, atmosphere and crisis to be played out by characters for the reader.
Next issue: Comedy in the Drama Genre.
“Are you mad? Didn’t you get the divorce papers? There’s nothing to talk about any more. It’s all over! It’s too late now!” she raised her voice, emphatic in her denial of him. Each sentence was a death knell, piercing his chest, until the pain was a raging river of fire inside him. Yet on the outside, he felt icy cold.
Holding onto the axe, I ran up two flights of stairs, and found myself looking down a long hallway, filled with offices, some of the doors having been shot through. Then I saw him- standing over the boss, with the muzzle opening planted firmly to his head.
My breathing kept speeding up more and more dangerously. Charlie kept talking with the sole intent to hurt me and torment me. Never in my life have I experienced such a humiliating, heartbreaking, gruesome, hellish, malicious, fiendish, outrageous, inhumane nightmare.
He did not even look back. Maybe he was scared. Maybe he was shocked. I don’t know. But he never came back. He did not ask me anything. He just left
The unbearable weight of fatigue pressing his eyelids shut that he might sleep and remember as he waits for the day that his memory will come back.
In the morning, before the students arrived, it took its deep cleansing breath to get it through another day as its halls echoed with rumors, jealousy, and the angst of teenage popularity, either because you were popular or because you wished so much to be so.
Nava recalled the terrifying feeling of a cold steel revolver invading her mouth with a shudder. She remembered the sight of her family lying humiliated and beaten on the streets.
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Excellent, Sarah! Thank you for this and for the work you put in on it!
You're welcome! I am glad you enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to learning more about this genre as I research these newsletters.
Thanks for the great newsletter on the history of Drama. I find I am not always sure what drama is (except for a drama queen!) but this helped clarify
I know the feeling! Researching this genre has certainly shown me how I've misunderstood Drama for so long!
BBWOLF- See Item 1825777
Sometimes things are crazy.
They sure are!
Sarah, thank you for featuring my short story in the newsletter! This one was turned into a novel, a dramatic novel, titled Off The Moon. I suppose I should edit the item to say so. Glad you enjoyed it.
I enjoyed reading this story, and congratulations! Turning your short story into a novel AND publishing it is a fantastic achievement.
Editing yet again!
I call my novel a drama. I hope I am right. It is a quest (yr 2000) yet the past is told so the two meet at the end. You see the tale of jealousy, hatred and vindictiveness that lasted 50 years how sad. It has a happy tearful ending.
It sounds like you have all the elements for a fine drama in your novel, and I wish you success in your writing!
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