Quilt: Drama

VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)

page 10 of 20

Tragedy in the Age of the Common Man: A Contradiction?

Objective for this Page: To consider whether the term tragedy is applicable to our society.

Beginning in the late 18th century, Western civilization experienced a massive transformation in the way society was organized. No longer was it believed that God ordained some to rule and others to serve. The so-called "common man" claimed his right to choose leaders from his/her own ranks.

A noble pedigree no longer guaranteed its holder the right to command others (at least, not in theory) and no longer obligated the rest of us to bow and scrape before him or her. Democracy--the belief that all men and women are created equal--was the order of the day.

What were the implications of this new ideal for tragedy? If we are all born equal, how can we have tragic heroes who "fall from a great height," who are "of noble stature" and possess "greatness."

Some critics claim that tragedy is indeed dead, that it cannot exist in a democratic society. But others insist that it can; only our definition of tragedy must change, just as our social organization has changed.

Let's take a look at a play that often serves as the focal point for the debate about the nature of tragedy in the Modern Age.

Assessment: Write a paragraph explaining your initial thoughts on tragedy in modern times.  Is a tragedy possible?

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