Defining Tragedy By Comparison To Comedy

1088 words - 5 pages

Greece at around 5th century BC was the cradle of theatre. It was fundamental within the ancient Greek society in various aspects: theatres were built, players performed, large audiences gathered, and many Greeks practiced their skills of playwriting. Plays were written in two distinct genres – comedy and tragedy (Bishop 63). Up until our time, the theatre was represented by a pair of masks – one smiling, the other frowning. This symbol offers simple, yet precise characterizations of comedy and tragedy.
This essay is an attempt to achieve a more profound definition of Tragedy, by examining the genre’s features using “Othello” as an example. As sometimes dictionary definitions are explained by contrast, tragedy may be understood better if compared to comedy. Another play by Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, was used for this purpose.
First, love was a central theme in both of the plays (Heilman 94). The tragedy began with Othello and Desdemona eloping, the comedy – with Theseus and Hippolyta planning their wedding. Love was important to the main characters: Desdemona left her father because she “…did love the Moor to live with him” (Shakespeare, Othello 1.3.244), Hermia stood up to hers insisting on marrying her beloved, and Theseus and Hippolyta simply counted the days till their “nuptial hour” (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.1). Yet while love seemed to prevail in the comedy, it was doubted in the tragedy. Oberon described love as a unison which lasts until death, whereas Iago claimed that it is short-lived, ceasing “when the blood is made dull with the act of sport” (Othello 2.1.227). Moreover, suggesting that it is “merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will” (Othello 1.3.304), he doubted love’s existence altogether.
Further evidence of different approaches could be seen in the way women were treated in the plays. Helena stated that women “should be wooed” (Midsummer 2.1.249), and indeed, both she and Hermia were wooed. Women were apparently respected; even the tradesmen were careful not to “fright the ladies out of their wits” (Midsummer 1.2.76) with their play. On the contrary, each of the female characters in “Othello” was called a ‘whore’ at some point. Men’s attitude towards them differed from the loving husbands seen in “Midsummer”: Cassio neglected Bianca, Iago ordered his wife around and taunted her, and Othello hit Desdemona publically.
There was also a difference in choice of metaphors for people in love. According to Helena, “love is said to be a child“ (Midsummer 1.1.244); later she told Demetrius “I am your spaniel” (Midsummer 2.1.210) implying her love for him. In addition, Bottom’s head transformation and Titania’s consequent wonder that she “was enamored of an ass” (Midsummer 4.1.78) demonstrated quite literally that one can be fooled by love. However, small dogs, children and donkeys are harmless. In “Othello”, on the other hand, love was often...

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