Classical Tragedies and Elizabethan Tragedies

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Tragedy has its origins in Ancient Greek, it was a kind of performance to honor Dionysus. They were performed as competition between three playwrights. Actors who took part in the plays were all man and they all wore masks. They wore masks to impersonate satyrs. According to Aristotle ‘’ Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. The tragic hero’s powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. ’’. (ohio. edu).

The main theme of tragidies was the downfall of a hero which was a high-born; a noble man, a king, because of some mixture of fate, divine will and his hibrus. The protoganist has to have some imperfections in his character traits, such as hibrus,he can not be perfectly good or a villain, he has to be someone with whom the audience can relate with. Generally protagonist commits a sin, he does not realize his mistake due to his pride and because of this sin he is punished harshly. In Greek tragedies characters are not as important as the theme. There are three unities of Greek tragedy; unity of action, unity of place and unity of time.

These unities were used to make the plays more believable. The Elizabethan drama took inspiration from Senecan Tragedies rather than classic Greek ones. Elizabethan Drama refers to plays produced during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The Elizabethan playwrights were very interested in the thme of revenge which was the main theme in Seneca’s plays. Seneca’s plays were to be read rather than to be performed on stage. Seneca’s plays were divided into 5 acts. ‘’During the reign of Elizabeth all the ten tragidies then ascribed to Seneca were translated into English verse. ’ (shakespeare-online. com).

Translations of these works contributed to the creation of a new kind of tragedy,revenge tragedy which was the main genre of Elizabethan Drama. Elizabethan playwrites defiled the rule of three unities. For example the play within the play in The Spanish Tragedy contradicts with the unity of action. According to unity of action a play shoul not have subplots ? t should follow a main action all through the play. Main themes of revenge plays were jealousy, ambition and revenge. The main character was overly captured by the desire for revenge.

Plays were violent and bloodful, there were lots of murders which all took place on the stage. Some of the most important playwrites of the period was Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare. Kyd took Senecan plays as inspiration adn created the genre of revenge tragedy. He wrote The Spanish Tragedy which was the first example of the genre. It starts with Don Andrea’s encounter with the Underworld, he was killed during the war between Spain and Portugal, he is sent back to world because his murder was unrevieled and he wovs revenge for his death. He was killed by in a combat by Prince of Portugal Balthazar.

Balthazar then is captured and brought to Spain. He becomes friends with Lorenzo, brother of Bel-Imperia who is former lover of Don Andrea. Balthazar falls in love with Bel-Imperia, but now Bel-Imperia is in love with Horatio, son of the Knight-Marshal of Spain. Soon he was also murdered by Lorenzo and Balthazar. His father Hieronimo decides to take revenge of his son but he is in conflict whether to leave it to God or to take the revenge on his own. He decides to put a play on stage in which Lorenzo, Balthazar and Bel-Imperia took part. It is a play-within-play named Soliman and Perseda.

In the play they were all killed and although revenge of his son finally fullfilled Hieronimo did not find comfort in it so he killed himself. Although as a Christian society revenge was unacceptable in England because revenge was something for God not people, this type of plays were very popular at the time. ‘’A hot-blooded revenge committed in a fit of passion was preferable to a cold-blooded revenge, carefully, methodically plotted out in a Machiavellian manner. Though they abhorred Machiavellianism in public, the Elizabethans were fascinated when it was represented on stage. ’’ (sparknotes. om).

In this sense with its The Spanish Tragedy was the first of this kind of plays employing this type of revenge with its character Hieronimo a decessive avenger. Doctor Faustus by Cristopher Marlowe is another example of Elizabethan drama although it is not a revenge tragedy. It is a play about a scholar named Faustus who is not satisfied with the knowledge he has and developed a passion for magic. He summons a demon named Mephastophillis with crafts he learned and he makes a deal with the devil, Lucifer, he offers his soul in return for Mephastophillis’ services for 24 years.

He is unable use power he got from the deal wisely, he travels through Europe using his powers for mockery and mischief and in the end he is punished by eternity in hell. Doctor Faustus again does not follow the tree unities rule. There is no unity of place for example. Unity of place means that play should be in a single place all through the play. In this play Faustus travel through Europe, he goes to court of Pope in Rome, He is invited to the court of German Emperor Charles V to perform with his power. Oedipus the King is a tragedy by Sophocles.

It is not original in subject; its subject was a knon myth. It is a play about Oedipus his parents are King Laius and Queen Jocasta. An oracle tells them that their son would kill his father and mate with his own mother in order to prevent this from happening Laius told Jacasta to kill the infant Oedipus h? wever she could not do so and tells a servant to kill the infant. Servant leaves the infant on a mountain top where he was found by a sepherd who gave him the name of Oedipus. The shepherd takes him to Corinth where he was raised by the childless King and Queen.

He heard the rumors of him not being their biological son and asked the oracle if he is or not. However instead of answering this question oracle told him that he w? ll kill his father and mate with his mother. So he runs away from Corinth in order to prevent this from happening but on the way to thebes he kils his real father Lauis and then marriies his mother Jacasta without knowing the fact that they were his real parents. After a while when he finds out that Jacasta is his real mother he blinds himself and he is sent to exile.

Elizabethan drama and classical tragedies are different in terms of plot, theme and characters. As a characteristic of classical plays fate has a massive impact on characters. No matter what they do, as in the case of Oedipus, they can not change what they are destined to do. It is not in their hands to change the course of the action which are meant to be and they accept this fact and does not have any internal conflicts about one’s free will.

Whereas in revenge tragedies written in Elizabethan age, characters seek for revenge and ready to do what t takes to accomplish it. As in the case of Hieronimo they have a conflict of whether leaving it to God or taking the revenge themselves. In classical works most common theme is fate whereas in Elizabethan plays is revenge. As Senecan plays revenge tragedies are full of bloody scenes and they are all performed on the stage. Whereas in Greek tragedies such things are told by the chorus. At last the main difference between them is that Elizabethan playwrights violated the three units of Classical tragedies.

References

http://www.ohio.edu/people/hartleyg/ref/aristotletragedy.html

http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/spanishtragedy/context.html

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