Drama in a Tragic Key

The genre of tragedy has been one of the most enduring artistic forms across history: With roots in Greek Attica (a region of Greece that includes Athens), it has inspired writers for more than 25 centuries. And despite continual transformations reflecting the shifting interests of the ages, tragedy has always emphasized topics of solemn import, involving the whole community in issues of moral and social consequence. This focus has resulted in recognizable qualities that have remained fairly consistent in works of tragic literature since the days of the first Greek tragedians.

A central aspect of any tragedy is the tragic hero, the protagonist of the story, who features these qualities and experiences:

High Character
Tragic heroes often possess an elevated position in society. But more important than their social status, tragic heroes exhibit goodness and virtue and face their destiny with courage and nobility of spirit. 

A personal flaw, mistake in judgment, or misstep that leads to the tragic hero’s change in fortune.

An example of hamartia, hubris refers to the excessive pride of tragic heroes. It may lead them to break a moral law, ignore warnings, or aim beyond their station—all with disastrous results.

A moment of recognition, self-discovery, or sudden awareness of one’s true situation on the part of the tragic hero.

A sudden reversal of fortune for the tragic hero. This reversal often follows anagnorisis and starts the protagonist on the path toward destruction.

The conclusion of a tragedy, with actions and events resulting from the climax of the play. The catastrophe ends the dramatic conflict and usually involves the death of the tragic hero, thereby offering a final demonstration of the hero’s nobility of character and fulfilling the hero’s unavoidable destiny.

The proper objective of tragedy, in the view of Aristotle: a beneficial purge of unhealthy emotions that restores a viewer’s proper emotional balance. More specifically, watching tragic action unfold will cause the viewer to experience pity and fear; after the hero’s downfall, the viewer can let go of these unhealthy feelings and enjoy a period of emotional relaxation.