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Introduction to Theatre Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

Last revision date: January 4, 2008

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Types of Drama / Plays: Tragedy

Resource: Wilson/Goldfarb, Chapter 8

The Six Elements of a Tragedy / Play are present in all plays, but some standard forms can be discerned.

Verisimilitude -- the "illusion of truth" -- the method of achieving it changes.

Form: the shape given to something so it may serve a useful purpose.

For our purposes: form / genre / types are intended to be categories that are not firm--there are endless sub-categories, and many plays will fit into a number of different categories simultaneously.

It can become dangerous to evaluate a play as one form, when it might not indeed fit that form.

Genre-- French for "category" or "type" -- sharing a particular point of view/ forming a group.

Genre criticism --can show how a play does or does not fit into a particular category, but can also be useful as a way of examining the plays and discovering more about them -- as a learning tool.

Such categories as "dramedy," "tragic farce," etc. have been used to show the merging of "types."

Shakespeare's Polonius in Hamlet ridiculed categorical obsessions: "tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastorical-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral." (Act II, scene ii).


Aristotle's definition of Tragedy (See My web page HERE or HERE [these require RealPlayer, and you MAY have to click on the image and / or the "play" button to see the image and hear the sound] ), and Poetics web page)

Characteristics of "Action" -- (Brockett on Aristotle)

1. Origins of Tragedy:

Magnitude: characters have high stature -- ethically superior but sufficiently imperfect

modern tragedies -- more common characteristics (Willy LOMAN).

High seriousness: Tries to arouse (effect) proper purgation of pity and fear -- [some have asked if the purgation is to be in the audience or in the characters??]

"Catharsis" -- a purification -- the compassion accompanying shared grief -- a humanizing force--
we return to a state of equilibrium after release of tensions -- Contradictory reactions -- pessimistic, yet not willing to surrender individuality -- a form of victory..

The Tragic Hero (protagonist) has a flaw in character or makes an error in judgment -- "tragic flaw" --    hamartia-- literally "missing the mark.".

"hubris" -- a characteristic -- overweening pride or self-confidence.

Aristotle suggests that the best plays (Oedipus) have the hubris being too much of a good thing (what makes Oedipus strong is his self-confidence and pride)

Universality -- Universal human values -- When a play touches something that is human in all of us and has lasting value through time

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Last revision date: January 4, 2008