Design of Tragedy: Catharsis, Hamartia, Comic Relief



A tragedy is a serious play representing the disastrous downfall of a central character, the most influential definition of tragedy is that of Aristotle in his poetics which says that tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and complete in achieving a catharsis through incidents arousing pity and terror. Aristotle also observed that the protagonist is led in to fatal calamity by his hamartia or ‘error’ which often takes the form of hubris or excessive pride. The tragic effect usually depends on our awareness of admirable qualities in the protagonist which are wasted terribly in the fated disaster.


The most painfully tragic plays like shakes pear’s king Lear shows a disproportion between the hero’s initial error and the destruction with which it is punished. Modern tragedies are different from the earlier ones in the sense that they depict socially inferior heroes of domestic comedy, heroes who are notes heroic as Aristotle would have desired. Some critics also define tragedy as a dramatization of man’s sense of being threatened by fate and even his own nature.



Why tragedy pleases us, is a question, which recurs in the human mind, especially as tragedy deals with unpleasant or sorrowful aspect of life. Therefore to a sane man tragedy would be pleasurable only to a sadist, a man who takes pleasures in the suffering of others Aristotle, that universal genius was the first to provide a rational and acceptable reason for the sensitive man’s enjoyment of tragedy. According to him, tragedy’s pleasure lies in catharsis, the balanced state of pity and fear which tragedy causes in the human mind. In poetics, Aristotle declares that the ordinary man usually suffers from on excessive or undergoing an experience of pity and fear, his own pity and fear are stirred , so that after the tragic experience he finds them reduced to the right proportion this expulsion on of pity and fear after excitation he called catharsis.

Who Hamartia?                                                                                                                                          
Aristotle: image wiki
Aristotle finds a real tragic hero to be an “intermediate kind of personage, a man not pre-eminently virtuous, whose misfortune is however brought upon him not by vice and depravity, but by some error of Judgments (Hamartia) “The phrase ’error of judgment ‘is a source of great confusion because the original Greek word hamartia also mean a moral flow. Hamartia is a term taken from archery. It means the missing of the mark by the archer. The missing of the mask is not itself a culpable act, but often proceeds from chance many would argue that the hero is no way responsible of this but others would agree that it may result from ineptitude which would amount to a ‘flow’. But there tragedies in which the responsibility or the fault of the protagonist is incontrovertible. One example of such responsibility is king liar, in which the fault of the king lies his craving for flattery. Hamartia may also turns to hubris of excessive pride. In Julius Caesar it is the unwonted pride of Caesar which leads him to call himself in destructible.


‘Tragedy is the imitation of serious action’, said Aristotle in his poetics and as per the unity of action, he would not tolerate any comic deviation. Yet Shakespeare, the ingenious playwrights that he was, not only included minor comic scenes in to the heart of the intersects tragedy, but made a dramatic success of it, The humorous characters speeches or scenes, there after became universals in Elizabethan tragedy. Although sometimes they occur merely as episodes or horseplay for the purpose of adding variety, in the best plays they are made integral to the plot and may even serve to increase the tragic the tragic effect. Examples of such artistic use of comic may found in grave digging scene in hamlet, the scene of the drunken porter after the murder of the king in Macbeth and the speeches of the fool in king hear. The Quinces was the first to point out the significance of the comic scene in a tragedy in his essay on the knocking at the gate in Macbeth. In king Lear the silly prattle of the fool instead of decreasing the tragic effect, as Keats says, only gives a finishing touch to the pathos.
ref: Encarta, Wiki, IGNOU STUDY MATERIAL

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