Bourgeois Tragedy: Definition & Explanation

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      Bourgeois Tragedy is a form of tragedy developed in the 18th century Europe. With the emergence of the bourgeois class, this type of tragedy seemed to be urgent to represent the ordinary human (between rich and poor) beings in literary contexts. This is to oppose the classical idea of tragic protagonists, who are presumed necessarily to be of higher socio-economic status. According to this tragedy, an ordinary human being represents his/her class which is the daily target of life struggle and surrenders to the complexity, impossibility and ambitions towards life. Bourgeois tragedies tend to propagate the values of the bourgeois class to which their heroes belong. Their ideal is the virtuous citizen, who is excluded from state affairs and whose intentions are focused on his private life and the life of his family. Values like virtue, humanity, individuality and true feelings are cherished in bourgeois tragedies. The first true bourgeois tragedy was an English play, George Lillo’s The. London Merchant or The History of George Barnwell, which was first performed in 1731. Gotthold Lessing’s play Miss Sara Sampson, which was first produced in 1755, is said to be the earliest Burgerliches Trauerspiel in Germany.

      Bourgeois tragedy is also known as domestic tragedy, in which the tragic protagonists are ordinary middle-class or lower-class individuals. This subgenre contrasts with classical and neoclassical tragedy, in which the protagonists are of kingly or aristocratic rank and their downfall is an affair of state as well as a personal matter. Aristotle had argued that tragedy should concern only great individuals with great minds and souls, because their catastrophic downfall would be more emotionally powerful to the audience. Only comedy should depict middle-class people. Domestic tragedy breaks with Aristotle’s precepts, taking its subject as merchants or citizens whose lives have less consequence in the wider world. In Britain, the first domestic tragedies were written in the Renaissance period, such as Arden of Faversham (1592), depicting the murder of a bourgeois man by his adulterous wife. Other famous examples are A Woman Killed with Kindness (1607), A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608), The Witch of Edmonton (1621) and Othello (1604).

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