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Tragedy Essay

In: English and Literature

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I believe that this statement ‘Tragedy shows us the unspeakable to prepare us for the worst’ is very true especially in relation to the films we have watched in the module course; Old boy, Far North and The Grizzly Man. In this essay I will discuss what is meant by the word tragedy, its origins, and what are the characteristics of this genre. I will also examine how the statement ‘tragedy shows us the unspeakable to prepare us for the worst’ is a true statement especially in relation to the module ‘Tragic Contexts’ and the films we have studied in this module. Though the origins of Tragedy are somewhat obscure it apparently started with the singing of a choral lyric in honour of Dionysus. This choral lyric was performed in a circular stage by a group of men who many have impersonated satyrs by wearing masks and dressing in goat-skins. This is why tragedy is derived from the Greek word tragoedia meaning ‘goat-song’. Scholars suspect that at that time a goat was either the prize in a competition of choral dancing, or the chorus danced around the goat before using it for a ritual sacrifice to the God Dionysus. As Dionysus was the Greek God of the grape harvest, winemaking, ritual madness and ecstasy. This is believed by Athenaeus of Naucratis who claims that the original form of the word tragedy was trygodia from trygos meaning grape harvest, as these events were first introduced during the grape harvest. In 335 BCE Aristotle provides us with the earliest surviving explanation for the origin of tragedy as a dramatic art form in his ‘Poetics’. Here he argues that tragedy developed from hymns and dances of praise to Dionysus;

‘Anyway, arising from an improvisatory beginning (both tragedy form he leaders of the dithyramb, and comedy from the leaders of the phallic processions which even now continue as a custom in many cities),[tragedy] grew little by little, as [the poets] developed whatever [new part] of it had appeared; and, passing through many changes, tragedy came to a halt, since it had attained its own nature’

In the same work, Aristotle attempts to provide a scholastic definition of what tragedy is;

‘Tragedy is, then, an enactment of a deed that is important and complete, and of [a certain] magnitude, by means of language enriched [with ornaments], each used separately in the different parts [of the play]: it is enacted, not [merely] recited, and thought pity and fear it effects relief (catharsis) to such [and similar] emotions’

By definition Tragedy is an art form based on real human suffering performed for its audience’s pleasure and enjoyment. The idea itself teaches us a lot more about our selves then we may like to know. The basic truth that we as humans enjoy and find pleasure in tragedy and tragic events - once we are not affected by them. Tragedy describes the roots of agony and is a well established genre. Tragedy is several things at once, and serves a great purpose for our entertainment and growth. What doesn’t’t kill you makes you stronger - so therefore we learn from tragedy. It is ultimately violence for the sake of violence, in its full extent is in wild, ferocious and uncontrollable. We as humans can never capture or control tragedy - unless we are implementing tragic actions on someone else. Tragedy teaches us that our faith is ultimately written. Tragedy was created for the same reasons religion was - as people are afraid of death, and tragedy dramatises moments of utter despair. We humans do not like to admit that suffering exists, we cling to the illusion that something will remain and survive through the tragedy. This can be especially seen in the films that we have studied throughout this module, as these films show us huge degrees of unthinkable and unspeakable scenes and images that prepare us to be able to cope with any greater tragedy that may arise. Each scene shows us a greater, more heightened degree of tragedy than the previous scenes. This technique slowly prepares us for the climax of the film that we would possibly not be able to handle had we not viewed the scenes before. In a sense they are gently easing us into the sheer horror that will unfold before our eyes. This method of filming is not only seen in these films it is somewhat the natural method that the God’s (or mother nature) use for creating tragedy in human life. The tragedy starts off small and escalates into its full potential. Thus either consciously or subconsciously preparing us for the worst that is yet to come. In Far North this idea of tragedy showing us the unspeakable to prepare us for the worst can most definitely be seen. In the first opening scenes if the film we are shown how the women kills one of their pet husky dogs as meat to eat for their dinner, she also does this without any signs of remorse or emotion. This immediately sets the scene for what later occurs in the film. As this brutal scene immediately prepares us that the worst is yet to come. Our suspicions are then confirmed in the final scene where not only does she kill the girl but she cuts of her face and wears it as her own in order to get what she wants - which is to have sex with Loki. She commit’s a crime that is extremely inhuman in order to feel more human. This highlights how brutal tragedy can be and how selfish and cruel people become when they desperately want their own way. Had we not viewed the previous scenes of tragedy we would have found this final scene even more horrific then we do now. By showing us scenes of unspeakable tragedy at the beginning and middle or the film it prepares us for the ending - which in tragedy films tends to be the climax of the tragic events and thus the worst. All the scenes before this are slowing setting the ‘tragic train’ in motion that will finally reach its destination. In Old boy this is also very apparent that the tragedy portrayed in this film is so unspeakable that it prepares us for the worst. From the beginning of this film events just spiral out of control for the protagonist Oh Dae-su, he is truly a man more sinned against than sinning as his live consists of tragedy after tragedy as he tried to find his capturer. His only fault was having spoken ‘the unspeakable’ about his captivator many years previous and thus he is now faced with the consequences. This film shows us many scenes of tragedy that are extremely gory and realistic. Each scene in a sense pushes the visual boundaries of the previous. These actions are all due to the revenge tragedy that has been inflicted on Oh Dae-su. This film shows us how tragedy can be horrific yet simultaneously brilliant. Over all I believe that the statement ‘Tragedy shows us the unspeakable to prepare us for the worst’ is a very true statement, that can most definitely been seen reflected in the films we have studies in this module ‘Tragic Contexts’.

 POETICS IV , 1449a 10-15 Janko 1987,6

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