Difference Between Tragedy and Epic

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      Tragedy, as defined earlier is form of imitation. Epics usually operate on a large scale, both in length and topic, such as the founding of a nation or the beginning of world history. They tend to use an elevated style of language and supernatural beings take part in the action. According to Aristotle, both tragedy and epic are forms of imitation. Tragedy imitates directly by means of mimesis and epic both directly and indirectly by means of mimesis and diegesis. While epic imitates solely by means of words, tragedy imitates by means of spectacle. Both epic and tragedy portray people better or greater than the average spectator, unlike comedy which portrays people as worse than they actually are and uses humor to dissuade us from acting badly. Due to practical constraints of production, tragedy ideally has a single unified action which is often restricted, to a specific time and place and a small number of characters, while epic has a broader scope of coverage.

      The first difference that matter is that of length. Tragedy, by its very nature, is more concentrated and compact. Hence its size is much more limited than that of the epic. The length of a tragedy is based on the principle that the work must be short enough to be grasped as an artistic whole. This holds good for the epic as well. But the length of the epic can be greater than that of the tragedy. The time limits of epic are not fixed. The epic has another advantage: it can relate a number of incidents happening simultaneously to different persons at the same time. Tragedy cannot show more than one incident happening at one place at one time. This is what gave rise to the concept of the Unity of Place. Though Aristotle does not stipulate this Unity at any time, not even in the chapter concerning the epic and the tragedy, later critics have attributed it to him. All that Aristotle says is that tragedy cannot represent more than one incident at one time, and that it cannot show incidents happening at different places at the same time. This is a common sense observation based on the practice of the Greek theatre. The greater size (length) of the epic allowed it more grandeur and dignity in the treatment of its incidents. The incidents in tragedy have necessarily to be shorter, and more concentrated. The introductions of the different episodes in an epic make it more interesting, as they relieve the dullness and monotony.

      Tragedy can make use of a greater variety of meters, while the epic has to content itself with the heroic meter. The heroic meter or the hexameter is most dignified and stately. It can make use of rare and strange words. The tragic mode allows the use of metaphors, in the iambic and trochaic tetrameter. Nature, says Aristotle, has established the appropriate meters for all forms of poetry. The iambic verse is close to the speech of men, and suited to imitation of men in action. The epic allows greater scope for the marvelous and the irrational. Tragedy, however, cannot make too much use of the marvelous within the action, for this would seem improbable and unconvincing. Epic can relate improbable tales because it is not going to be presented on stage before the eyes of the spectators. The degree of the irrational can be greater because it is left to the imagination, and not placed before the eyes. Indeed, the element of marvelous adds to the artistic pleasure and wonder of the epic. Such incidents of the marvelous, which include the supernatural and the irrational, have to be placed outside the action of tragedy. The epic uses the mode of the narrative, and tragedy the mode of the dramatic. The plot of epic, as of tragedy, must have unity. Yet within the overall unity, the epic allows for more and longer incidents than does tragedy. The epic allows multiplicity of stories, which would, be unthinkable in the tragedy. The elements which are, however, only to be found in the tragedy, are Music and Spectacle. Tragedy has a vividness which is absent in epic. This is so, even if the tragedy is read and. not acted out on stage.

      A tragic hero, unlike an epic hero, usually does not have a happy ending and also does not have to be entirely good nor evil, which is surprising to most. Whereas with an epic hero, he may have to deal with supernatural beings and is said to often perform courageous, sometimes super human deeds. In Beowulf, Beowulf, the main character is the exact image of an epic hero. One of the main characteristics of an epic hero is his informal speech which Beowulf does. He speaks of what he has come for and. leaves the lasting impression saying “...fate will unwind as it must!” along with his formal speech; Beowulf carries his epic hero duties very well. He also must “perform courageous-sometimes superhuman-deeds” which Beowulf exemplifies through his fight with Grendel’s mom, alone and weaponless. Epic heroes almost always come out on top, (especially in Beowulf's case), unlike the tragic hero, who almost never gets as lucky.

      A main characteristic of a tragic hero is that they must have a tragic flaw, which leads to their downfall. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’ flaw does not seem like one that would be able to be topped by anything else. Oedipus’ downfall was one he had thought and successfully avoided his entire life. He falls into the trait of not being entirely good or evil. He is good because he comes to the city of Thebes to try and help their town find the murderer of their former king, yet evil because the murderer he is looking for is actually himself. Oedipus invokes pity on himself (also a characteristic of a tragic hero) after finding out the truth about his parents and his past history. “Ah god! It was true! All the prophecies! Now,o light, may I look on you for the last time! I, Oedipus, Oedipus, damned in his birth, in his marriage damned, damned in the blood he shed with his own hand!” Oedipus and his story are the true definition of a tragic hero. Once the two stories are compared, the difference between an epic and tragic hero seems as clear as a day without clouds. Epic heroes seem to get off just a little bit easier than tragic heroes. Epic heroes get to come out on top and at the end of the day are still thought of as noble birth and great historic importance. As for tragic heroes, once their fight is over, they come out on the bottom, with a tragic downfall that they will probably not ever get out of, much like Oedipus, who ended up blind and parentless! In the end of the day, being an epic hero is much more rewarding than a tragic hero.

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