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21 Oct

Aspects of a Tragedy

Aspects of a Tragedy

1. Vulnerability of Human Predicament

Tragedy always underlines the extreme precariousness of human existence. Sometimes, the hero is brought low by hostile Fate or by a powerful rival. At other times, the hero is destroyed by a terrible weakness from within. In all these cases we are aware of the extraordinary vulnerability of man. The more elevated and seemingly secure the hero appears to be, the greater is his helplessness and insecurity.

2. Man’s greatness

Tragedy dramatizes not only man’s frightening and pitiful weakness, but also his greatness. Many of the heroes exhibit an extraordinary nobility in the way in which they bear their sufferings. True, Oedipus is a helpless victim in the hands of malevolent Fate, but the way in which he faces his sufferings raises him to the stature of a hero. Similarly Macbeth and Lear show themselves capable of an extraordinary change for the better. They mature and reach new heights before they meet their death. Thus tragedy takes into account the enormous potentialities of man. That is why tragedy is not pessimistic about man.

3. Conflict Followed by Reconciliation

Great and terrible conflicts are an integral part of the tragic vision. Some of the tragic heroes are in conflict with Fate or the gods, some with evil within or evil without. Yet another type of conflict is between two kinds of ‘goods’. This is much harder than the conflict between good and evil. In Antigone, it is a conflict between two types of duties, one to the state and the other to one’s own brother. This conflict tears the moral order into two. But in tragedy, the conflict is finally reconciled and harmony restored. We see this re-establishment of moral order clearly in Shakespeare’s tragedies. The minor character give the impression that in spite of the death of a Hamlet or a Lear, ordinary life will go on. In Hamlet, the kingdom falls into the competent hands of Fortinbras. In King Lear the kingdom falls into the hands of the sturdy Albany.

4. Moral Responsibility

The complex issue of the individual’s moral responsibility is a vital aspect of the tragic vision. Surely this issue is raised in the Aristotelian concept of the tragic flaw. This flaw, to some extent paves the way for the fall in Greek tragedies. It has a devastating role in Shakespearean tragedies. In Macbeth and Lear, we see in a terrible form how man is responsible for his actions. Certainly the consequences far exceed what the tragic flaw would warrant/justify. Even in plays where there is not much of a tragic flaw, characters like Antigone defend with a fierce will what they consider to be their responsibility. Modern existentialists provide still another version of this tragic view of responsibility. According to them, man has no tragic flaw, nor is there any divinity to guide him. Rather, man is confronted by an utterly absurd world. But he must meet it with the same heroic bearing of Oedipus or Antigone. Thus tragedy views man “as the jest, the riddle and the glory of the world.”

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