6 Elements of Tragedy



The genre of tragedy is quite well theorized, unlike many other genres. The theory of tragedy is as old as 5th Century BC. It was the age of Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote his treatise called, ‘Poetics.

According to the Aristotelian view, tragedy represents a somber and serious reality that is complete in itself. The tragedy is thus included over the top and stimulating language to produce emotional reactions.

Generally, it incorporates powerful episodes of suffering, losses etc. There is a sense of pleasure in suffering and sadness and the whole plot is governed by the aim to produce such sensory response.

In literature, a tragedy is a drama that shows the protagonist involved in a significant event and meeting his spectacular downfall. It is dotted with ideas of fate, sacrifice, destiny, and duty.

The defeat also urges the hero to search for answers regarding the relationship between human beings and the Creator. Heroes are often taken from myths and classical literature-flawed but courageous.

Downfall or defeat is a function of an error or weakness termed as ‘harmatia’ (fatal flaw) in his characters like pride or arrogance. There exists a chorus to provide commentary on the action.

Greeks believed that the Fates or Moirai (three goddesses) determine the suffering in one’s life and such fate was inescapable like in ‘Antigone’ or ‘Oedipus’ etc.

The neoclassical theorists added two more, unity of time and place to the Aristotelian unity of action. The major characteristics of tragedy are:


It is the center of gravity for any tragedy and unites all other elements. Plots can be complex or linear. They provide room for twists and reversals of fortunes for the hero.

In the plot, the protagonist causes disruption of equilibrium and it, in turn, leads to the utter extirpation of the hero. The various incidents in a plot exhibit a casual relationship with each other.

The plot should elicit pity and fear in the minds of audiences. The plot provides the outline like in painting and helps lends meaning to the character. It requires a logical and ordered sequence.


Characterization provides the base to the plot. Characters can be myriad in their beliefs, appearances, and habits. They can be akin to actual people or completely fictitious.

The flawed hero is not perfect; he struggles to balance his virtues with his demons. He is an ordinary man who aspires to become in terms of courage, morality, and strength. It is only such an admirable character who will be able to get pity and fear from the audiences.

The characters must represent true human nature and be loyal to the mythical or historical personalities they are modeled on. The writer should avoid unrealistic changes in the characters or their personalities and must stay true to their sketch.


The thought is the faculty to enunciate something as important and rational, a condition or circumstance. It represents the ideational or intellectual element of a tragic drama. Example: melancholy is enunciated for a tragedy.

This also includes the various themes depicted in the tragedy which are expressed through speech. Such speeches are employed to reveal and unravel character/s.


It is the selection of words or vocabulary used by the dramatist. Since the chosen words are deemed apt to arouse feelings in the audiences it also affects the process of meaning-making.

Thus, diction is the portrayal of emotions through the instrument of words. They carry with them meanings that stimulate the desired responses in the spectators.


Music is the spice used in a tragedy like the chorus songs. They add fluid narrative style and educate the audiences about the events that do not occur before their eyes of the or on the stage.

Historical or past events are explained through such commentary. It provides an understanding of existing realities and future possibilities. Thus, such embellishment enhances the emotional and cathartic value of a tragedy


It is the organization of the stage. It is important for the conversion of writing into a sensorial experience. It enhances the dramatic and emotional grasp of the written word.

It adds to the relevance of an event. The addition and execution of spectacular effects can elevate the theatrical performance to a sensational one.