Life always ends in tragedy


A tragedy is a play with serious content. The term is essentially synonymous with tragedy. In the end there is the failure of the tragic hero. The text type tragedy belongs to the literary genre of drama.

What is a tragedy?

Tragedy is one of the two basic forms of drama. This distinction was made by Aristotle (384–322 BC). In contrast to the cheerful comedy, the tragedy is a Piece with serious content. Its origin can be traced back to ancient Greece. In its classic form, the tragedy deals with questions in the area of ​​tension between personal freedom and fate, between humans and gods or family constellations. The questions lead to an insoluble conflict. For the hero this means a tragic entanglement in his fate. The "tragedy" lies in the fact that the hero is a person of high social standing who becomes guilty and perishes through no direct personal fault.

On the term tragedy

The term tragedy comes from the theater of ancient Greece. It is derived from the Greek tragodia = Goat singing. This was either the "singing of the goats" with tragic choirs in goat masks or the "singing about the goat", which was price or sacrifice. The goatsong was part of a cult in honor of the god Dionysus. In the Greek world of gods, Dionysus is the god of wine, joy and ecstasy. The term tragedy is essentially synonymous with Tragedy.

Content characteristics of a tragedy

  • Stage play with serious content
  • Focus on people with a noble character
  • Compliance with the class clause (no characters from lower social classes)
  • Representation of an insoluble conflict (gods, society or family constellation)
  • Fault of the hero (he becomes "innocently guilty")
  • Failure and inevitable downfall of the hero (catastrophe)
  • Tragic ending

In everyday language, tragic often used to mean sad, bad, or bad. In the context of tragedy means tragic however, that a person of high social standing and prestige becomes "innocently guilty". He cannot escape his fate, a fatal social or family constellation. The consequence is one Fall over a great height. In the end there is the inevitable downfall of the main character. Examples are Oedipus, Hamlet or Maria Stuart.

The ancient tragedy

The tragedy originated in ancient Greece. Every year in March the god Dionysus was worshiped there: extravagant celebrations with wine, wild dances and parades took place. That fits Dionysus' area of ​​responsibility in the Greek gods: He is the god of wine, joy, ecstasy and fertility. Dionysus was always accompanied by the satyrs: wild demons, hybrid creatures of humans and billy goats.

The Dionysia

The Dionysia were Festival in honor of the god Dionysus. In ancient Greece, Dionysus was worshiped as the god of wine, joy, fertility, grapes, ecstasy and madness. The festival emerged from cultic parades. Such celebrations took place four times a year - with different focuses.

Choir singing was an essential part of the celebrations and parades. The singers were disguised as satyrs. The poet and actor Thespis (6th century BC) had the idea of ​​contrasting the choir of the goats with a single singer. The song of praise to Dionysus, actually a monologue, thus became a dialogue - with speech and counter-speech. In contrast to the choir singers, the soloist appeared as a person. He turned to the gods and began to question his fate.

In the 5th century BC In Athens, democracy experienced its heyday. The three great tragedy poets of that time were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Ancient man was exposed to the will of the gods and his fate. The danger of ruin or destruction threatened him continuously. Escaping one's fate was impossible. But man could accept it and wear it with dignity. Aeschylus and Sophocles initially confirmed their audience in it. Euripides in particular began to question the blind belief in the power of the gods. The tragedy began to break away from myth and recognize human reason.

Well-known tragedies from ancient times
  • The Oresty (458 BC) by Aeschylus
  • Antigone (442 BC) by Sophocles
  • Medea (431 BC) by Euripides
  • King Oedipus (425 BC) by Sophocles
  • Iphigenia in Aulis (405 BC) by Euripides

The tragedy in modern times

There were hardly any tragedies in the Middle Ages. In their place stepped Passion Playcentered on the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. First the Spanish poets Lope de Vega (1562-1635) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681) again created significant tragedies for world literature.

Attacked in England William Shakespeare (1564–1616) the genre. His tragedies were determined by the political conditions of the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare broke through the classical unity of time, place and action. While the heroes of antiquity represent a type of person, Shakespeare is about the inner conflict of an individual.

Tragedies by William Shakespeare

The tragedy achieved great importance in the French Classical period (1660–1715). The great playwrights of that era were Pierre Corneille (1606–1684), Molière (1622-1673) and Jean Racine (1639-1699). The three units of time, place and action were strictly observed.

At the time of the Enlightenment, that is Civil tragedy as a sub-genre of tragedy. Well-known German-speaking author Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781). A special feature of the civil tragedy is the deviation from the class clause. There are characters from both the nobility and the bourgeoisie. These include works such as Lessing's Emilia Galotti (1772) or Schiller's Kabale und Liebe (1784).

The Weimar Classic produced such important tragedies as Goethe's Egmont (1788), his Iphigenia on Tauris (1787) or Faust (1808).

In a modern age full of contradictions, tragedy no longer seems up-to-date. They were replaced, for example, by the epic theater, the tragic comedy or the grotesque.

Well-known tragedies of modern times

Sources and further reading:
Basic knowledge of school German Abitur, Duden Schulbuchverlag Berlin, Mannheim, Zurich, 2011.
Gero von Wilpert, Specialized Dictionary of Literature, Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 2013.

Page published on 02/18/2020. Last updated on September 3rd, 2020.
Text by Heike Münnich. ©