The question of what defines tragedy has been an issue addressed by several different literary minds since the day of Aristotle, the first person to define tragedy. When Aristotle first defined tragedy he believed tragedy was something reserved for a person of noble stature. He said this person was eventually brought down by a tragic flaw, hence the term tragedy. Robert Silverberg agrees with Aristotle's views on tragedy, but other authors don't accept Aristotle's view so easily. Arthur Miller for example Believes any common man can be tragic, not just the nobility. And Richard Sewall, takes a view that's a bit different all together.
Aristotle was, as far as we know, the first person to define tragedy, and his definition has been forced down school kid's throats year after year ever since. Aristotle said a hero was a person of noble stature that was good, but far from perfect. A tragic flaw in the person's character then led to misfortune that they didn't completely deserve, and eventually the character's complete downfall. Aristotle said that the character accepted his fate, and that it wasn't all bad. Aristotle's view that the character's misfortune was not fully deserved, but that the character was responsible for their downfall seems slightly hypocritical, but who am I to criticize Aristotle's opinions.
Robert Silverberg describes a tragic character as, "a man (or sometimes a woman) of great capability and attainment and ambition, who attempts great things and ultimately fails in his attempt, overreaching himself and loosing all because of some inherent fundamental flaw in his character" (Silverberg, 6). Robert Silverberg's opinion of tragedy completely coincides with Aristotle. He doesn't form any new opinions, and his lack of creativity and originality really makes his article "Roger and John" undeserving of mention in this paper. Of the fou opinions reviewed here I like Arthur Miller's the most.
In Miller's "Tragedy and the Common Man" Miller states, "I believe that common people are as apt subjects for tragedy in its highest sense as monarchs are" (Miller, 16). While the others who have written their own definition have reserved tragedy for the noble, I like the fact that Miller doesn't feel that tragedy is something too good for the ordinary man. He defines tragic characters as people, "who are ready to lay down their lives, if need be, to secure one thing - their sense of personal dignity" (Miller, 16). Miller also believes that the character is not brought down by a tragic flaw of their own, but rather by a tragic flaw in the environment. Richard Sewall has a defined three-part definition of tragedy. In his essay "The Tragic Form" he states, "[t]tragedy makes certain distinguishable and characteristic affirmations, as well as denials about...
the cosmos and man's relation to it; ... the nature of the individual and his relation to himself; ... the individual in society" (Sewall, 166). Sewall says that in a tragedy good and evil are both seen as definite forces in the cosmos.
Sewall says that the tragic character is a paradox. Sewall states that the tragic character, "is no child of God, but yet... feels himself more than a child of earth" (Sewall, 169). According to Sewall the tragic man is very defiant to authority. This defiance is a direct result of the tragic character's pride, and is not necessarily a bad thing, according to Sewall. Sewall believes the main thing that sets the tragic man apart from the other characters of a tragedy is suffering.
Sewall says that the tragic man would define himself by the statement, "I suffer, I will to suffer, I learn by suffering; therefore I am" (Sewall 170). And although tragic man is defined by suffering he does not seek out suffering or find it glorious. Lastly Sewall defines tragedy by the tragic character, and his interaction with society. Tragic man has the obvious options that most people pick when faced with a citation but a tragic man picks a different coarse.
Sewall says that tragic man, "protests: he pits himself in some way against whatever, in the heavens above and in the earth beneath, seems to him to be wrong, oppressive, or personally thwarting" (Sewall, 172). Tragic man accepts that what he does is terrible, but he feels he must do it. The tragic characters actions must affect his environment including the people that surround him. Revealing some hidden truth. And in the end through his experiences the tragic character is raised above the other characters, and normal people. Of all the viewpoints taken on tragedy, and the tragic man, I value Miller's view the most.
I can't understand why Aristotle insists that the tragic man must be of noble standing. I appreciate the idea that Miller puts forth, that the common man can be tragic, and it is through his tragedy that, "the character gains 'size,' the tragic stature which is spuriously [ (falsely) ] attached to the royal or the high-born in our minds" (Miller, 17). While the other authors's tate ments could be interpreted to say that tragedy can apply to the common man the fact that Miller says it most outright makes me value his article the most.