Tragic Portrayal Of Life: The Study Of Three Plays; Phaedra, Hedda Gabler And Waiting For Godot.Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played an unique and important role historically in the self-definition of human civilization.
Going all the way back to the time of Aristotle, there has been a tendency to discuss tragedy in terms of form. We tend to describe and judge tragedy in terms of certain formal or structural characteristics. According to Aristotle who first defined tragedy, it is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself. Tragedy typically includes incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions.
The elements of a classical tragedy includes, a tragic hero who, though not perfect, is certainly in some way morally superior to most of the audience (and who is nearly always upper class), but also exhibits hamartia, the tragic flaw (literally, it translates as error of judgement) which is often hubris, loosely translated as arrogance, that causes the hero to believe he can outwit fate or violate a moral law, which leads in turn to some kind of catastrophe, which results in peripeteia. However the genre of tragedy with the course of time had travelled a magnitude, where it had been subjected to certain changes in its form as well as structure. There was a systematic development of tragedy in England during the phase of Renaissance. Although the pre and post Elizabethan period witnessed a development in course of this format of plays but there was a difference in the presentations of the plays in different point of time.
The main focus of the tragedy shifted towards the role of the tragic hero during the renaissance time, which was quite different to that of the classical time. It was the hamartia of the tragic hero which became important rather than the role of fate or destiny as in the classical model. Moreover the depictions of horror and bloodshed which was absent in the classical model was incorporated in some of the plays during Elizabethan time; especially in Revenge Tragedies. The tragedy as a literary form has been so much popularized in course of time that, this form has been molded according to various artists, however these artists tried to kept the essence of the tragedy as per their inherent time.
The plays, Phaedra by Racine, Hedda Gabler by Ibsen and Waiting for Godot by Beckett, are all tragedies but they are of different genres. They tried to project the time, which they come into.Phaedra is a tragedy in five acts. The drama, generally recognized as Racine’s finest achievement, was published in 1677.
He based it on an ancient Greek play, Hippolytus, by Euripides (484-406 B.C.). The external conventions of classical tragedy which had been established by Corneille, Racine did not attempt to modify.
His study of the Greek tragedians and his own taste led him to submit willingly to the rigor and simplicity of form which were the fundamental marks of the classical ideal. It was in his treatment of character that he differed most from his predecessor. Racine represents his as driven by almost uncontrollable passion. Thus his creations appeal to the modern reader as more warmly human; their speech, if less exalted, is simpler and more natural; and he succeeds more brilliantly with his portraits of women than with those of men.
All these characteristics are exemplified in Phaedre, the tragedy of Racine which has made an appeal to the widest audience. To the legend as treated by Euripides, Racine added the love of Hippolytus for Aricia, and thus supplied a motive for Phaedra’s jealousy, and at the same time he made the nurse instead of Phaedra the calumniator of his son to Theseus. Greek tragedy is notorious for leaving no character without a share in the guilt. Phaedra is not responsible for her love or for its confession to Hippolytus, but with her false accusation she condemns him to death.
On the other hand, Hippolytus does nothing immoral, he does not even reveal Phaedra’s passion to his father but his sanctimonious speeches, his arrogance and his unforgiving reaction to the nurse’s words provoke Phaedra to extreme measures.Hedda Gabler, published in 1890, was first performed in Munich, Germany, on January 31, 1891. Many scholars link the play with what Ibsen described as the happiest event in his life, his brief liaison with Emilie Bardach, an eighteen-year-old Viennese girl whom he met in the small Alpine town of Gossensass in September of 1889. It is an ironic association, for in the months after the sixty-two-year old playwright stopped corresponding with Emilie, he wrote Hedda Gabler.
It is fitting that the title of the play is Hedda’s maiden name, Hedda Gabler, for the play is to a large extent about the formerly aristocratic Hedda’s inability to adjust to the bourgeois life into which she has married. Her tragedy lies not only in her own suicide but in her desire that Ejlert should have a beautiful suicide, she hopes that life can be beautiful, can measure up to a certain standard, regardless of practicalities like professional success or failure. She is amused by how much Tesman worries about making a living. Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is a definitive look at social conditions involving women at the turn of the Century.
His title character is a complex individual who is driven to destruction by her great desires. Hedda epitomizes women of that time period by their dependency on social convention, and she is motivated to do so many things but unfortunately is without the courage to act upon them. There are many elements used by Ibsen to depict a tragic hero, and therefore a tragic play. For example, the reader sees a specific worldview, a main character of noble birth, and both concepts of the hamartia and peripetia which are vital to the tragic plot.
After Phaedra and Hedda Gabler, the genre of literary tragedies took a new dimension. The modern approach toward tragedies was different from its predecessors. The new genre of Absurd Drama gave a new outlook to the artistry of playwriting. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, is a perfect example of an Absurd Drama or rather modern tragedy or tragic-comedy.
The thematic expression of the play revolves round the purpose of human life which is an unanswerable question. It seems impossible to find an answer because we don’t know where to begin looking or whom to ask. Existence, to us, seems to be something imposed upon us by an unknown force. There is no apparent meaning to it, and yet we suffer as a result of it.
The world seems utterly chaotic. We therefore try to impose meaning on it through pattern and fabricated purposes to distract ourselves from the fact that our situation is hopelessly unfathomable. Waiting for Godot is a play that captures this feeling and view of the world, and characterizes it with archetypes that symbolize humanity and its behaviour when faced with this knowledge. According to the play, a human being’s life is totally dependant on chance, and, by extension, time is meaningless; therefore, a human’s life is also meaningless, and the realization of this drives humans to rely on nebulous, outside forces, which may be real or not, for order and direction.
The basic premise of the play is that chance is the underlying factor behind existence. Therefore human life is determined by chance. This is established very early on, when Vladimir mentions the parable of the two thieves from the Bible. “One of the thieves was saved.
It’s a reasonable percentage” [Beckett, 8]. The play also questioned on the existence of the figure of God or rather any external source which can overturn the existential crisis in the life of the contemporary society. The world of Waiting for Godot is one without any meaningful pattern, which symbolizes chaos as the dominating force in the world. There is no orderly sequence of events.
A tree which was barren one day is covered with leaves the next. The two tramps return to the same place every day to wait for Godot. No one can remember exactly what happened the day before. Night falls instantly and Godot never comes.
The entire setting of the play is meant to demonstrate that time is based on chance, and therefore human life is based on chance.The concept of tragedy as a literary form has become popularized due to the impact it has on its audiences. Comparing this genus artistry from the old classical model to modern depiction of tragedy is quite noteworthy. The above discussed three plays, all tragedies, however they differ from other regarding there in theme as well as in structure.
However all these writers Beckette, Ibesen and Racine, have certain identical approach regarding their works. The classical concept of Unity of Time, Place and Action has been incorporated in all these plays. However they also have certain differences with both the classical and renaissance concept of tragedies. The depiction of a woman protagonist as a tragic hero in Hedda Gabler is quite unorthodox regarding the concept of tragedies.
Moreover in the play Waiting for Godot, the idea of tragedy is quite unique. There is no so called tragic hero, as both Vladimir and Estragon does not rise to the so called grandeur of a tragic hero. In their case it is the marginalizing constrain of the society with produces the tragic atmosphere in there life. It is both the individual choice of the writers and the effect of the contemporary society which governs the plot and the structure of the tragedies and hence the tragedies differ from that of the classical, renaissance as well as from the modern genre.
References:1. Beckett Samuel., (1954), Waiting for Godot, Grove, Weidenfeld, New York: USA2. Isben Henrik.
, (2006), Hedda Gabler, Echo Library, U.K3. Racine Jean Baptiste., (2004), Phaedra.
Kessinger Publishing, U.S.A