What is a Tragedy in Writing? Definition, Examples of Tragedies in Literature

Tragedy definition: A tragedy is a serious drama that typically ends in disaster.

What is a Tragedy in Literature?

Tragedies are serious, somber dramas that typically end in disaster. These dramas may be composed in prose or verse and often center around a character that endures great, unexpected misfortune. Oftentimes, the misfortune that the character suffers is due to a tragic flaw in his personality such as greed for power or rash thinking.

Example of Tragedy

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green can identified as a modern, young adult tragedy. In this novel, two teens affected by cancer meet and fall in love through a cancer support group. However, the story tragically ends with the unexpected death of one of the lovers.

Types of Tragedy

There are two main categories of tragedy in literature.

Greek Tragedy: Greek tragedies included subject matter, which told of the misfortunes of heroes as well as gods and goddesses. It was important for Greek tragedies to include a catharsis or release of great emotional tension.

  • An example of a Greek tragedy would be Antigone by Sophocles.
  • Another example of Greek tragedy is the drama Trojan Woman by Euripedes.

English Tragedy: These tragedies are modeled after the Roman playwright Seneca. In these works, it can be noted that there is considerable violence and the occasional supernatural being. Unlike Greek tragedies, English ones revolve around realistic people and have many subplots as well as moments of comic relief.

  • William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is categorized as an English tragedy.
  • In addition to Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Othello is also an example of English tragedy.

The Function of Tragedies in Literature

Tragedies are an important genre of literature that allows an audience to experience a great release of emotions as the tragic events unfold in the story. Within these dramas, the negative qualities of life are highlighted, and oftentimes, the audience can learn from the mistakes made by the characters, which ultimately led them to their demise.

Tragedy Examples in Literature

Classic example of tragedy: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a classic example of an English tragedy. In this place, the main character’s Romeo and Juliet fall in love but are doomed by fate. Despite their feuding families, the two decide to secretly marry and attempt to be together. Unfortunately, due to fate and their rash decision-making, they tragically commit suicide at the end of the play.

Modern example of tragedy: An example of a modern tragedy is Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. This drama follows the protagonist, Willy Loman, who was constantly in search for the American Dream. Due to his unsuccessful attempts to achieve this goal and inability to accept his family as a version of the American Dream, he commits suicide at the end of the play leaving his wife widowed.

Summary: What are Tragedies?

Define tragedy in literature: In summation, tragedies are serious, somber dramas in which the characters’ suffer great downfalls due to flaws in their personalities.

Final Example:

The play Macbeth by William Shakespeare is categorized as a tragedy. In this drama, the protagonist, Macbeth, suffers great downfalls, including his own death, due to his thirst for power.