Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tragedy

tragedy--a dramatic form based on loss and suffering; pivotal story conditions from which there is often no chance of recovery,in which characters experience excruciating grief; the actual or metaphorical loss of power, position, and happiness; stories in which individual characters appear to be led away from a course of action that would provide them with happiness by personality quirks they cannot control.

In grim metaphor, tragedy has become The Man Who Came to Dinner personified, visiting all segments of humanity, seemingly at whim. Tragedy is the Fates on a drunken spree, the forces of Life choosing a victim such as Job, seemingly from whim or boredom; it can strike nearly anyone, nearly anywhere; it can find its way into the caves of meditating yogis, the cells of monasteries, the congregations of synagogues, the mosques of the ultra-orthodox. Tragedy can strike at the heart of the most disciplined and severe aesthetic, he or she who has renounced all earthly things, by separating that individual from God. Thus tragedy is the ultimate vulnerability, the ever present threat that an individual can lose the one thing he values most, be it life, another person, youth, a special ability, or power.

Over its years as a staple in drama, tragedy has become democratized, extending its reach from the noble families of ancient Greece to the middle classes in America,say O'Neil's A Moon for the Misbegotten, Miller's The Death of a Salesman or All My Sons, and thence across the seas to the failed British comic,Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer. We can see tragedy personified in the wrinkled and battered face of actor Tommy Lee Jones, particularly in his portrayals of Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men, and Hank Deerfield in The Valley of Elah. Tragedy inheres in the voice of an Iraqi mother, heard over NPR, wailing in Arabic over the senseless death of an infant child, an innocent victim of a suicide bomber. Tragedy is everywhere, in actuality and lurking behind a mere twist of chance.

Tragedy can come at any age. In retrospect, a failed teen romance may seem a trifle in comparison to the loss of a life-long companion. The death of a childhood pet may be trumped by the unthinkable tragedy of a parent outliving a child, but just as well, these early losses may leave life long scars on the emotions of the individuals involved.

By watching and reading tragedy, the viewer/reader is able to participate in that remarkable human ritual known as catharsis; by sharing in the tragedy of the characters, the viewer/reader is brought closer to terms with his own personal tragedy.

Much has been made and much more remains to be made of the narrow boundary separating the tragic from the comedic. Laughter, after all, has a cathartic effect of its very own. Accordingly, in that writer-like way of detaching the writer self from the self who has experienced tragedy of some measure, we may observe that timing is everything. The comedic is tragedy speeded up.

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