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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Why tragedy?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25804 points ) March 11th, 2012

King Lear
Oedipus the King
Hamlet
The Oresteia
Macbeth
Long Days Journey Into Night
Othello
Medea

In one list of the 100 greatest plays written to date, I counted well over 60 or 70 tragedies. The rest were comedies, so-called problem plays, and others like absurdist works that defy categorization.

One doesn’t have to know much about theater to know the names of some of the greatest theatrical works.

Why are they tragedies?

Is life ultimately a tragedy that we humans have to portray it thus?

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30 Answers

creepermax's avatar

Whoa. Yeah, I just read Anouilh’s Antigone and it totally made me think that! Tragedies always make me feel alive, like affirming my existence. I think life is a tragedy, a beautiful tragedy.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Tragedy cements our investment in a character beyond comedy.

It is the difference between having a friend we have only known in good times, and a friend we have known in good times and bad. We are going to have deeper emotions for a tragic play due to that emotional bond, and speak higher of the play.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Is life ultimately a tragedy – Yes.

But, it’s also harder to realistically portray tragedy than it is to make comedy. Now, comedy is hard, and it’s especially hard if you’re going for more intellectual stuff instead of using fart jokes and tearing into public figures, and it’s yet even harder to get many cultures across centuries to see the same stuff as funny. But to get people to identify with gut-wrenching depression, psychosis, nervous breakdowns, panic attacks, etc, is harder, especially if they don’t have first-hand knowledge of that experience. And, tragedy can bring us together in ways comedy can’t – if you’ve lost a child, and you find someone else from anywhere in the world that’s lost a child, that’s a bigger bonding thing than laughing about how romantic love is so absurd and does turn you into an ass.

Sunny2's avatar

A play has to have conflict and that’s easier to come by with a tragedy.

fundevogel's avatar

It may be that comedies are more rooted in the time that produces them where as tragedies tend to center on universal human concerns.

Also, William Fucking Shakespeare.

SpeedskaterMan's avatar

I guess it’s because life itself is ultimately a tragedy, that’s why there are so many plays and songs that are tragic, to help us cope with it.

linguaphile's avatar

Because tragedies deal with the vulnerability and fallibility of being human; even if it hasn’t happened to us, we can relate.

ucme's avatar

Because Shakespeare was a fan of the Bee Gee’s?

rebbel's avatar

For the same reasons why good news newspapers don’t sell.
‘We’ (apparently) are not interested in good news, we want to read/hear/see misery.
Think of ‘disaster tourism’.

SmashTheState's avatar

Amerikan culture is infantilized. Study after study has shown the links between conservatism and stupidity. The lower the IQ, the lower the education, the more likely a person is to be a conservative. The educational system and the mass media have been deliberately sabotaged to create an entire nation of weak-willed, poorly-educated, fearful, ignorant, and arrogant pollyannas who are emotionally ill-equipped to deal with the tragedy which is real life. This is why every movie which comes out of Hollywood has to have a “happy ending,” and why cinema elsewhere in the world either fails to attract attention in Amerika or (as in the case of, for example, The Descent) is actually butchered to give it the requisite “happy ending.”

As you have noted, the majority of great literature is tragic, because life is tragic. It is only in Amerika that people lack the emotional clarity to relate to tragedy.

thorninmud's avatar

Some philosophers say that all philosophy is, at its core, an attempt to reconcile ourselves to death. Death and loss are our ultimate koan, the thorny enigma that shadows us and that our minds compulsively spar with.

Neuropsychologists say that dreams are the brain’s way of rehearsing strategies for dealing with situations that we find awkward, confusing or frightening. I think that tragedy serves this same function: it allows us to get a closer look at death and loss, to try to make sense of them, but from the safe remove of another’s perspective.

CWOTUS's avatar

All of life is tragedy. (Hey, it’s Monday morning; some poetic license here.)

But I think it may have been Mark Twain who made the observation that “all comedy is tragedy cut short”. A cogent observation, I think. All fairy tales could end: “They lived happily ever after, and then they died.”

Blackberry's avatar

I think tragedy is life. I watched a movie recently called The Veteran, and it pulled me in even though it just seemed like a typical movie. What made me like it even more was the tragic and abrupt ending. Initially I was pissed of, but I remembered that this is what would most likely happen in reality.

Feels bad, man…....Lol.

john65pennington's avatar

Tragedies in movies is like emotions in songs.

They both touch our hearts.

ratboy's avatar

Nothing else is as entertaining as other people’s misfortune.

tinyfaery's avatar

Life is a tragedy.

fundevogel's avatar

Is it really?

Blackberry's avatar

@fundevogel It’s a love/hate thing: life.

fundevogel's avatar

@Blackberry That I could buy.

fundevogel's avatar

@tinyfaery I’m sorry you think so.

SmashTheState's avatar

“The meaning of life is that it stops.”Franz Kafka

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m sorry you don’t.

fundevogel's avatar

You’re sorry I don’t think life is a tragedy? You’re much darker than I thought.

CWOTUS's avatar

Oh, I read that as a response to the post above, @fundevogel. Maybe I should stop being so literal and linear… or you should start.

tinyfaery's avatar

I could have said you’re a sanctimonious fool, with absurd ideas. Do you know how unbelievably presumptuous it is to think I need someone to feel sorry for me. Ugh.

fundevogel's avatar

I just meant I that I wished you had less reason to think life tragic.

I meant no slight by it. In general I wish people didn’t have to endure much suffering. I didn’t realize this made me sanctimonious.

ro_in_motion's avatar

Lawrence Olivier once said something to the effect that ‘Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard’.

Until we get much better at science, death, starvation, war, etc. are all tragedies. Eliminate them and the topics become rich for simple comedy. Truly great comedy can tackle those issues and get laughs today. But it is incredibly rare.

As a great example, consider ‘Catch 22’: is that a comedy or a tragedy?

Truthfully, the problem with comedy is that it pops balloons while tragedy enshrines them. If I can make you laugh at some aspect of a tragedy (say, The Challenger explosion), I make the topic lose its impact. You can now address that topic without the tragic emotional response.

OTOH, you have, say, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. If you cry at that, odds are good you’ll cry at similar tragedies.

linguaphile's avatar

The comedy is that it’s serious
This is a strange enough new play on words
I say the tragedy is how you’re gonna spend
The rest of your nights with the light on
So shine the light on all of your friends
Well it all amounts to nothing in the end…

Iiiiiii won’t worry my life aaaaway

Why Tragedy? Because life’s a tragio-comedy. :D

zander101's avatar

I feel when humans experience tragedy that’s when they are the most humbled and in response observe life from a different perspective. I personally, aside from the theme of classic plays mentioned in this specific question, listen to allot of alternative and classic rock that can express the sense of tragedy felt in watching classic plays. I feel those types of mediums that are involved in the artform of music, plays, books etc can assist in helping someone to attempt to understand life, in other words seeing life for what it is as opposed to what you wish it could be…...

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