Structure and Types of Tragedy

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Structure of Tragedy

      Gustav Freytag, a 19th century German critic analyzed the structure of drama in the following way: 1) introduction, 2) inciting moment, 3) rising action, 4) climax, 5) falling action, and 6) catastrophe. The introduction is the beginning of the play when the dramatic characters, their domestic and social situations, their duties, relationships, aims and ambitions etc. are taken forward in front of the audience. In the inciting moment, the major characters or the heroes are encouraged or pushed by some external or internal powers to doing something unpleasant. In the next structure namely rising action, the heroes involve themselves in such a risky action that they will have to face the consequence, which is destructive to them. The climax is the apex of the pyramidal structure. The pyramidal structure shows clearly how complications and emotional tensions rise like one side of a pyramid toward its apex. Once the climax is over, the descending side of the pyramid depicts the decrease in tensions and complications as the drama reaches its conclusion and denouement (‘unknotting’, ‘unwinding’ or unraveling of the main dramatic complications at the end of a play, the outcome or result of a complex situation or sequence of events). In the climax, the drama reaches its peak point, when the situation goes out of control and actor has nothing do but wait for a devastating obvious consequence. In the falling action, no newer action is to take place rather it is the position of surrendering to the consequence of fate or misdeeds. At last, catastrophe is the completely devastating moment at the end of the play. The structure of the Freytag pyramid is based on a typical five-act tragedy, but is in fact applicable to a large number of plays, and also to many forms of fiction.

Types of Tragedy

      Tragedy is of various types, ranging from the physical fight to death, to epic struggle between incarnate social ideals. Based on the theme and plot of drama, tragedy is generally divided into three types: revenge tragedy, domestic tragedy and heroic tragedy. In revenge tragedy, the plot is centered on the tragic hero’s attempts at taking revenge on the murderer of a close relative. In these plays the hero tries to ‘right a wrong’. The genre can be traced back to Antiquity, e.g. to the Oresteia of Aeschylus, and the tragedies of Seneca. During the Renaissance, there were two distinct types of revenge tragedy in Europe; the Spanish-French tradition (Lope de Vega, Calderon, Corneille) focusing on honor and the conflict between love and duty. The English revenge tragedy following the Senecan traditions of sensational, melodramatic action and savage, often exaggerated bloodshed in the center. Elizabethan revenge tragedies usually feature a ghost, some delay, feigned or real madness of the hero, and often a play-within-the-play; cf.: Kyd: The Spanish Tragedy; Shakespeare: Hamlet., Webster: The Duchess of Malfi.

      Domestic Tragedy is a play typically about middle-class or lower middle-class life, concerned with the domestic sphere, the private, personal, intimate matters within the family, between husband and wife (as opposed to the national matters of a nation/country, or universal - the whole of mankind). There are plenty of examples of domestic tragedy in Tudor and Jacobean drama, e.g. Shakespeare’s Othello; Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness-, some in the 18th century like Lillo’s The London Merchant etc. The term may even be applied to the work of latter dramatists as well.

      Heroic Tragedy is mostly popular during the English Restoration period. Heroic tragedy or tragicomedy usually used bombastic language and exotic settings to depict a noble heroic protagonist and their torment in choosing between love and patriotic duties. A typical example of heroic tragedy would be John Dryden’s The Conquest of Granada.

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