Tragedy (from the τραγῳδία, tragōidia) is a disastrous event, especially one involving great loss of life or injury. It is also a form of drama based on human suffering in which the main character is brought to ruin or otherwise suffers the extreme consequences of some tragic flaw or weakness of character, invoking an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in audiences.
- A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language ... not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.
- Aristotle, Poetics, 1449b24 ff.
- I had not been long back from Hiroshima when I heard someone say, in Szilárd's presence; that it was the tragedy of scientists that their discoveries were used for destruction. Szilárd replied, as he more than anyone else had the right to reply; that it was not the tragedy of scientists, it is the tragedy of mankind.
- Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.
- Mel Brooks, The 2,000 Year Old Man (1961)
- I have changed my definition of tragedy. I now think tragedy is not foul deeds done to a person (usually noble in some manner) but rather that tragedy is irresolvable conflict. Both sides/ideas are right.
- Rita Mae Brown, Starting from Scratch (1989)
- I have changed my definition of tragedy. I now think tragedy is not foul deeds done to a person... but rather that tragedy is irresolvable conflict. Both sides/ideas are right. Plot involves fragmentary reality, and it might involve composite reality. Fragmentary reality is the view of the individual. Composite reality is the community or state view. Fragmentary reality is always set against composite reality. Virginia Woolf did this by creating fragmentary monologues and for a while this was all the rage in literature. She was a genius. In the hands of the merely talented it came off like gibberish.
- Comedy is tragedy plus time.
- Carol Burnett, as quoted in Starting from Scratch (1989) by Rita Mae Brown
- When we are hungry we buy something to eat. We go to a restaurant or we look in the refrigerator. Quiet satisfaction, we do not think twice about it. But if you are living in the Developing World, if you are one of the 1,300 million people who live in absolute poverty, if you are one of the 38 million who are literally starving to death, you cannot do that. So will end what the Master calls “this dark chapter in the history of the race... No more will the dying forms of the starving disgrace the screens of the affluent. No longer will men watch their brothers dying before their eyes.” That is a tragedy which has gone on for so many years, for as long as I can remember. (p. 25)
- Comedy is in act superior to tragedy and humourous reasoning superior to grandiloquent reasoning.
- The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.
- Variants: One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.
A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
When one dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic.
- This quotation may originate from "Französischer Witz" (1925) by Kurt Tucholsky: "Darauf sagt ein Diplomat vom Quai d'Orsay: «Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!»" ("To which a Quai d'Orsay diplomat replies: «The war? I can't find it so terrible! The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!»")
- Variants: One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.
- The legacy of modernity is a legacy of fratricidal wars, devastating "development," cruel "civilization," and previously unimagined violence. Erich Auerbach once wrote that tragedy is the only genre that can properly claim realism in Western literature, and perhaps this is true precisely because of the tragedy Western modernity has imposed on the world.
- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000), p. 46
- These struggles have got to result in happy endings for all, and the readers must learn not to worship tragedy as the highest art any more.
- 1990 interview in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston edited by Paul Skenazy and Tera Martin (1998)
- The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism.
- Arthur Miller, Collected Plays (1958) Introduction, Section 1
- Gorgias called tragedy a deception wherein he who deceives is more honest than he who does not deceive, and he who is deceived is wiser than he who is not deceived.
- Plutarch, “How to study poetry,” Moralia, 15D
- Tragedy springs from outrage; it protests at the conditions of life. It carries in it the possibilities of disorder, for all tragic poets have something of the rebelliousness of Antigone. Goethe, on the contrary, loathed disorder. He once said that he preferred injustice, signifying by that cruel assertion not his support for reactionary political ideals, but his conviction that injustice is temporary and reparable whereas disorder destroys the very possibilities of human progress. Again, this is an anti-tragic view; in tragedy it is the individual instance of injustice that infirms the general pretence of order. One Hamlet is enough to convict a state of rottenness.
- George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy (1961), ch. V (p. 167).
- A tragedy can never suffer by delay: a comedy may, because the allusions or the manners represented in it maybe temporary.
- Horace Walpole, letter 123 To Robert Jephson (13 July 1777)
- The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.
- Letter to Anne, Countess of Ossory, (16 August 1776)
- A favourite saying of Walpole's, it is repeated in other of his letters, and might be derived from a similar statement attributed to Jean de La Bruyère, though unsourced: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think". An earlier form occurs in another published letter:
- I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel — a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.
- Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann (31 December 1769)
Arthur Miller, Tragedy and the Common Man (1949) edit
- In this age few tragedies are written. It has often been held that the lack is due to a paucity of heroes among us, or else that modern man has had the blood drawn out of his organs of belief by the skepticism of science, and the heroic attack on life cannot feed on an attitude of reserve and circumspection. For one reason or another, we are often held to be below tragedy — or tragedy above us.
- I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing — his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society.
Sometimes he is one who has been displaced from it, sometimes one who seeks to attain it for the first time, but the fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral is the wound of indignity and its dominant force is indignation. Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.
- The tragic right is a condition of life, a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and realize itself. The wrong is the condition which suppresses man, perverts the flowing out of his love and creative instinct. Tragedy enlightens — and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man's freedom. The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts. The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies.
- Above all else, tragedy requires the finest appreciation by the writer of cause and effect.
No tragedy can therefore come about when its author fears to question absolutely everything, when he regards any institution, habit or custom as being either everlasting, immutable or inevitable. In the tragic view the need of man to wholly realize himself is the only fixed star, and whatever it is that hedges his nature and lowers it is ripe for attack and examination.
- There is a misconception of tragedy with which I have been struck in review after review, and in many conversations with writers and readers alike. It is the idea that tragedy is of necessity allied to pessimism. Even the dictionary says nothing more about the word than that it means a story with a sad or unhappy ending. This impression is so firmly fixed that I almost hesitate to claim that in truth tragedy implies more optimism in its author than does comedy, and that its final result ought to be the reinforcement of the onlooker's brightest opinions of the human animal.
For, if it is true to say that in essence the tragic hero is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality, and if this struggle must be total and without reservation, then it automatically demonstrates the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity.
- The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force.
Pathos truly is the mode for the pessimist. But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. And it is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief — optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man.
It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time — the heart and spirit of the average man.