Types of Tragedy for Drama Class

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Ghosts were common in Elizabethan tragedies.

Studying tragedy in the drama classroom is not only essential for a student’s understanding of theatre, but can also encourage powerful and stirring student performances. Simple tragedies may be suitable for junior drama students, while heavier tragic forms will appeal to senior students of theatre.

Greek philosopher Aristotle defined tragedy in his work The Poetics, the very first example of dramatic theory:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete,
and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind
of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts
of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity
and fear effecting the proper purgation (catharsis) of these emotions.

Below I have compiled a variety of tragic forms with my own descriptions, suggested year levels at which to study them in drama, plus links to relevant published articles on The Drama Teacher.

TragedyDescriptionLevel
 TragedyTragic plays normally focus on misfortunes surrounding a hero, usually the protagonist, and often a flawed one. Tragedies typically include serious subject matter or themes, and sometimes end in the downfall or death of one or more characters.All
Greek TragedyAncient Greek tragedies typically consisted of a protagonist of high rank who makes an error of judgement (flawed) and accepts his fall from grace. Other important elements include Gods, mythology, conflict, suffering and catharsis. The great Greek tragedians were Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus. Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex is often considered the perfect tragedy.Middle

Senior

Roman TragedyWhile many Greek tragedies were still being performed during Roman times, few genuine Roman tragedies survive. Those that have survived are mostly adaptations of Greek tragedies. Nine plays written by Roman philosopher Seneca survive today, some of which are considered revenge tragedies, adopted by Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.Senior
Elizabethan and Jacobean TragedyElizabethan tragedies (not all written by William Shakespeare) often include protagonists of high status (nobility, military rank, etc.) who are flawed, encounter a reversal of fortune and (usually) die at play’s end. Jacobean tragedies are mostly characterised as being revenge tragedies (see below).Middle

Senior

Revenge TragedyRevenge tragedies are dramatic works in which one character seeks revenge upon another character for an evil doing. Most often associated with the Jacobean era, these revenge tragedies were actually a revival from Roman times. Excellent examples of revenge tragedies include William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.Senior
TragicomedyA mixture of tragic and comic elements existing in a single dramatic work. Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot is a fine example of the form, where the comic elements are not necessarily noticeable at first glance.All
Domestic TragedyThese dramas originated in the Elizabethan period, but broke from previously established conventions, instead portraying the common man in a domestic setting as the tragic hero (as opposed to a character of nobility in a palatial setting). Excellent examples include Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.Senior

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7 Responses

  1. Victor Kingsley Akussah says:

    thanks for this in depth explanation. very concise and straightforward. however, i have been battling with the issue of who the protagonist of the book…. Julius caesar is? can you please help me out….. i am torn between Caesar and Brutus.

  2. PADWAL RAJENDAR says:

    I NEED A BRIEF EXPLANATION ABOUT TRAGEDY……….

  3. Maryam sehyi says:

    Waw!what an extra ordinary explanation,pray dt god wil always guides u.Bt wht of d types of tragedy?.

  4. Pawan Nimesh says:

    Please tell me about personal pastoral elegy these are tragedy or not
    I want to know how many kinds are there tragedy
    I will be highly obliged to you
    Professor asked me what type tragedy is Antigone but I couldn’t

    • Ajjunwa Ekene Pius says:

      Elegy is not a kind of drama, so it’s not tragedy at all. it is a kind of poem. However, Antigone is a classical or Greek tragedy.

  5. abdur rehman says:

    this was quite a handful information.However, I was in need of the types of drama

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