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Sunday, June 14, 2015


Aristotle identifies tragedy as the most refined version of poetry dealing with lofty matters and comedy as the most refined version of poetry dealing with base matters.

 "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its Catharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, and Melody."

Tragedy is the "imitation of an action" (mimesis) according to "the law of probability or necessity." Aristotle indicates that the medium of tragedy is drama, not narrative; tragedy "shows" rather than "tells." According to Aristotle, tragedy is higher and more philosophical than history because history simply relates what has happened while tragedy dramatizes what may happen, "what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity." History thus deals with the particular, and tragedy with the universal. Events that have happened may be due to accident or coincidence; they may be particular to a specific situation and not be part of a clear cause-and-effect chain. Therefore they have little relevance for others. Tragedy, however, is rooted in the fundamental order of the universe; it creates a cause-and-effect chain that clearly reveals what may happen at any time or place because that is the way the world operates. Tragedy therefore arouses not only pity but also fear, because the audience can envision themselves within this cause-and-effect chain.

In his Poetics, Aristotle outlined the ingredients necessary for a good tragedy, and he based his formula on what he considered to be the perfect tragedy, Sophocles's Oedipus the King. According to Aristotle, a tragedy must be an imitation of life in the form of a serious story that is complete in itself; in other words, the story must be realistic and narrow in focus. A good tragedy will evoke pity and fear in its viewers, causing the viewers to experience a feeling of catharsis. Catharsis, in Greek, means "purgation" or "purification"; running through the gamut of these strong emotions will leave viewers feeling elated, in the same way we often claim that "a good cry" will make one feel better. 

Aristotle also outlined the characteristics of a good tragic hero. He must be "better than we are," a man who is superior to the average man in some way. In Oedipus's case, he is superior not only because of social standing, but also because he is smart? He is the only person who could solve the Sphinx's riddle. At the same time, a tragic hero must evoke both pity and fear, and Aristotle claims that the best way to do this is if he is imperfect. A character with a mixture of good and evil is more compelling that a character who is merely good. And Oedipus is definitely not perfect; although a clever man, he is blind to the truth and refuses to believe Teiresias's warnings. Although he is a good father, he unwittingly fathered children in incest. A tragic hero suffers because of his Hamartia, a Greek word that is often translated as "tragic flaw" but really means "error in judgement." Often this flaw or error has to do with fate? A character tempts fate, thinks he can change fate or doesn't realize what fate has in store for him. In Oedipus the King, fate is an idea that surfaces again and again. The focus on fate reveals another aspect of a tragedy as outlined by Aristotle: dramatic irony. Good tragedies are filled with irony. The audience knows the outcome of the story already, but the hero does not, making his actions seem ignorant or inappropriate in the face of what is to come. Whenever a character attempts to change fate, this is ironic to an audience who knows that the tragic outcome of the story cannot be avoided.

The tragic flaw in Oedipus Rex's character is Hubris which translates to excessive pride.

There are many differences between Oedipus and Medea but in the end they ultimately destroy everything around them that they love the most because of the wrong choices they make in the face of anger. First of all however Medea does display some heroic qualities by showing that she is willing to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. In this case it was to be with Jason. As discussed before heroes are clever and resourceful. Medea certainly was both. Instead of using brute force to accomplish her plans, Medea uses her mind instead. Physical strength is always impressive but Medea uses cleverness and intelligence which are more impressive as heroic qualities. Things change a bit though when she poisons the King of Corinth with the poison gifts taken to him by her children. This plan makes Medea into the perfect villain. In this role of villain Medea's behaviour is then seen as cunning and manipulative and alternates between rational and irrational, and in the end is just plain evil. On the other hand Oedipus' downfall was his heroic quality of always seeking the truth no matter the cost. It was the need for truth that caused him to consult the oracle and learn about 

the prophecy. This need for truth caused his sins to be revealed to the world. As with all heroes he would not stop until he had what he was after. He was not to be stopped until he had it. He sought the truth in the end though it was his pride that was responsible for his downfall. Pride was responsible for him not stepping aside at the crossroads. Heroes need to know when to use good judgment. Oedipus did not use good judgment. He let pride over ride that. It was pride that caused him to want to solve sphinx's riddle which helped fulfil the second part of the tragic prophecy. Also his pride played a part in his eagerness to find Laius's killer, believing that he was the only one who could do it and he wanted to show it off. Both Medea and Oedipus' downfalls were also pushed by the lack of good judgment in making the right choices and extreme danger to the point of rage when things did not go as they were supposed to. They were both placed in situations where they reacted with such rage it clouded their judgment. Fate was also a huge part of it seemingly. But as far as fate goes, it seems like Oedipus was forever running away from his fate by trying to escape the oracle's prophecy. One the other hand Medea was generally cold, manipulative and ruthless; She knew her mind well and did exactly what she wanted; she was leaving nothing to fate. Oedipus and Medea proved in both situations that in the end any action or choice comes with responsibility and consequences. Both were tragic.


-Ninad Samaddar

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