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Tragedy is a form of drama which can be traced as far back as the Greek theatre. The Greek tragedies were originally written and produced for theatrical competitions, and the winning team in the tragic competition would receive a goat to feast on. The word "tragedy" is thus derived from the Greek language word "tragodiai," meaning "goat-songs". Greek tragedy rose out of religious rites and dramatic enactment of tales of the gods in the early Greek religion and mythology. Aristotle theorized that catharsis (emotional cleansing) results from viewing a tragedy and explains why humans enjoy seeing dramatized pain.

The hallmarks of a tragedy are:

Greek literature boasts three great writers of tragedy whose works are extant: Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus. The largest festival for Greek tragedy was the Dionysia. The Roman theatre does not appear to have had the same tradition of tragedy writing, but Seneca was one of those who adapted Greek stories, such as Phaedra, into Latin for the Roman stage.

One of the greatest specialist writers of tragedy in modern times was Jean Racine, who is often considered more brilliant than his rival, Pierre Corneille, and brought a new face to the genre. When his play, Berenice, was criticised for not containing any deaths, Racine disputed the conventional view of tragedy.

In the English language, the most famous and most successful are the tragedies of William Shakespeare and his Elizabethan contemporaries. Shakespeare wrote these tragedies:

A contemporary of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, also wrote examples of tragedy in English, notably:

John Webster (1580?-1635?), also wrote famous plays of the genre: In modern literature, the definition of tragedy has become less precise. A Doll's House (1879) by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen is an example of a more contemporary tragedy. Like Ibsen's other dramatic works it has been translated into English. It has enjoyed great popularity on the English and American stage.

The rarity of tragedy in the American theater is probably due to the American ideal, that man is captain of his fate and that justice inevitably rules the affairs of men. However, Arthur Miller stands out as a successful writer of tragic plays. Among them:

See also

tragicomedy, classicism, Tragic flaw

External links

In modern Greek the word simply means "song". Nothing says that this means a story with an unhappy ending. I strongly suspect that this meaning has survived from Ancient Greek. So, if you enjoy plays, don't switch off simply because some classic play is labelled a tragedy. The Ancient Greeks enjoyed happy endings just as much as we do today! (But may have had a different opinion on what was really happy...).