The simplest definition of tragedy is that a tragedy is a play which has an unhappy ending and contains a complex emotional and intellectual pattern that marks it out as being tragic. It traces the downfall of an individual as a result of external forces, like fate tragic. It traces the human weakness. Generally the protagonist reaches awareness and perception through intense suffering.
The beginning of tragedy are to be found in ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) analysed tragedy in his poetic, and identified its main features:
•It represented a single action of a certain importance
•It aroused the emotions of pity and terror in the audience.
•Pity and terror were dissolved or purged by catharsis (purification) at the climax of the play. The purging of these emotions from the audience through their presentation on the stage was an important social function of tragedy, as such emotions might be harmful if not removed.
•The tragic hero was of high rank, neither good nor evilm and he passed from happiness to mistery and death as a result of a “tragic flaw”, i.e a weakness or a mistake on his part.
•There was unity of action (one story and only one), of time (events took place within a single day and night), and of place (events were set in a single place).
•No blending of tragedy and comedy.
Another important feature which characterized Greek tragedy was the strong religious element, according to which the world was seen as being controlled by moral law (themis), and the men who broke this law were punished by divine justice (dike) and by fate (nemesis).
The number of actors was limited. A chorus – a group of characters representing ordinary people – was on stage throughout the performance and described the situation, often reacting to it, and provided a running commentary on it.
Developed from Greek tragedy, and was greatly influenced by Seneca. However, it showed differences from Greek tragedy, the most important being the neglect of the Aristotelian unities, and the motive of revenge. In addition, it must be noted that Shakespeare often inserted comic characters or scenes into his tragedies.
Presents tragic heroes who are ordinary men and women rather than kings, queens and great warriors: dramatists have found that ordinary people are interesting, and have concentrated on their tragic fate, which equally arouses the emotions of pity and fear.