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The Classic Tragedy


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The classic tragedy, as defined by Aristotle, has six major parts. These parts include a plot, characters, theme, melody, spectacle, and language. All stories, according to Aristotle must have a beginning, middle, and end, and must follow a logical sequence according to these six elements.

The plot is the series of events, or sequence in which the action of the play occurs. Plot must follow a cause and effect relationship, which follows a logical pattern. Characters are the people in the play, who have certain qualities that can be determined by what they say, do and what others say about them. The theme of the play is the general feeling or statement made by the author that presents an observation or thought to the audience. Melody is the musical quality of the play, which includes a change of pitch by the voice, musical instruments , and also includes the high and low points of the play giving it an overall melodic quality. Spectacle includes the visual elements of the play, anything that is observed by sight. Often in modern movies and plays spectacle can be overdone, especially if a reason for the spectacle cannot be found. Language is the dialog or speech that makes up the story, and is used by characters to present the play to the audience.

Aristotle lays out a very specific definition of what a tragedy should include, and how each element should be presented. He tells us that the tragedy must include these six elements and that they must be laid out in a logical manner. Aristotle sets up the framework for a tragedy that is used with or without the playwright’s knowledge for innumerable classical and modern plays.

3. Along with giving us the six elements of a tragedy, Aristotle also gives us four parts that should be included in a tragic hero. Sophocles’ character Oedipus is considered to be the classic example of a tragic hero. This is attributed to the fact that Oedipus clearly demonstrates all four of the characteristics that make up the tragic hero as defined by Aristotle.

According to Aristotle, the tragic hero must be a good, as well as great person. What this means is that he must hold high moral goals and ideals for himself as well as being of high or noble stature in society. The tragic hero must have a character flaw, this could be some excess or inadequacy that the hero possesses. This character flaw must lead to a downfall for the hero, causing him pain or suffering in some way, hence the term tragedy. An enlightenment for the hero must follow at the end of the story to give us an idea that some greater good was accomplished or that some important lesson was learned.
Oedipus demonstrates these four attributes of a tragic hero very clearly. He was a great person in that he was a prince in both Corinth and Thebes, as well as the king of Thebes. He demonstrated high moral standards through his selfless love of Thebes, and his relentless search for the truth, as well as his sense of responsibility for his actions. Oedipus’ character flaw was said to be his hubris or excessive pride, his not knowing when to quit and his thinking he could circumvent his fate. We also discussed in class, that perhaps he should have been more careful about who he murdered, having a fate as he did. His downfall was obviously having to live with the knowledge of what he did, being banished and blinded by his own hand. In his own words, “I am misery!” Oedipus realizes at the end that he is not as great as he once thought he was and that he cannot circumvent the will of the gods. The theme of darkness and light is used throughout the play as a symbol or knowledge or enlightenment. When Oedipus is blinded at the end he is then able to “see” the truth.

6. The theory of incongruity is a comical theory that is based on the idea that a happening does not “size-up” or “fit” the situation, therefore it is considered to be humorous. This theory of comedy is often used in modern as well as classical stories. Several other aspects of comedy also work complementary with incongruity, such as ludicrous contrast, as well as “slap-stick” comedy.

Several examples of incongruity can be found throughout classical as well as modern comedy. Lysistrata involves this idea of incongruity through the play. The idea of women taking the akropolis was quite incongruent with the position of women at that time. This, along with the use of the elderly chorus of men, provides several comical scenes in Lysistrata, such as the one where the women empty the pitchers over the men’s heads. Incongruity is used throughout modern comedies such as the Naked Gun movies with Leslie Neilson. Some examples of incongruity are when he takes on a room full of heavily armed men by himself, or when he is umpiring a baseball game and kicks another umpire out of the stadium.

Incongruity is considered comical when something does not “fit-in” to a scene, it seems silly to us and out of the ordinary. Incongruity is able to give us a sense of detachment because we know it is cannot realistically happen. It is also used in slap stick or physical comedy because we know that no one is really being hurt, and we are therefore able to see the humor in the discomfort. Ludicrous contrast compares two things that are not expected to be compared to one another, this is also related to incongruity because the two things do not “size-up” or “fit” together. Incongruity is an integral part of comedy and has been making people laugh for centuries.

8. The “Odyssey” is considered to be the “first comedy” if classical literature. This is believed because it involves a homecoming and has a happy ending, which was the original understanding of ancient Greek comedy. The “Odyssey” encompasses several other aspects of comedy such as a comic hero as well as the use of mistaken identity and deliberate deception.

The Greek comedy is based in religious ritual, with a song by the comus. The comus were a band of (drunk) revelers who would chase away evil spirits. Greek comedies usually included a happy ending or homecoming as the “Odyssey” did. The “Odyssey” was the first written comedy. It, along with the “Illiad”, was written in the 8th century B.C. by a Greek bard named Homer. It is believed that the “Odyssey” was written later in Homer’s life than the “Illiad” because of its more positive outlook, moral reasoning, and happy ending. The “Odyssey” may not be the first comedy, nor is it the sole creation of Homer, however these things are attributed to it, because it was the first to be written down.

Odysseus is considered to be the “quintessential” comic hero. Even though he is of great stature, he represents “every man” or the common man. He is sent on a long journey by Poseidon where he must use his cunning and shrewdness to make his way home. Odysseus must come up with a scheme in order to regain his homeland. Mistaken identity and deliberate deception are often used together and are used throughout this epic. Mistaken identity is when a character believes they are seeing someone, but it is not really that person, adding an element of dramatic irony. Deliberate deception is very similar, but the character is intending to deceive others and often uses a disguise. These elements are used several times by Athena, who comes to mortals in the form of people around them. Odysseus also disguises himself as a beggar when he gets back to Ithaca. Several elements of the modern comedy can be found in the “Odyssey,” and because of its home coming, or happy ending it is considered the first comedy.

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