This TED Talk that we listened to was quite interesting. In it, the presenter argued that humans do not really have the most control over the choices that we make and the things that we choose.
Outsiders can influence decision making. Here is a link to a website that talks about how corporations can manipulate your decisions. When human beings are presented with two choices that are the same except for some slight thing, say a trip to Paris versus a trip to Rome, it all comes down to personal preference to dictate which option they will choose to take. However, when a third option is included that is similar to but of slightly lesser value than one of the options, people will gravitate to the "better choice".
This is an interesting fact, and it relates to tragedy. Sometimes, not hearing about a certain thing is a good thing. For example, in Oedipus if the prophecy had not ever been revealed to Oedipus, he would not have left his home and more than likely would not have ever met his birth mother or birth father. Similarly, if Jocasta had not heard the prophecy she would not have attempted to have her son abandoned and murdered, and Oedipus would have been able to grow up with his real family. If he had grown up with his mother acting as his actual mother, I would think that he would be quite a bit less likely to sleep with her.
But. as people, we make rash decisions based on any extra information that we come across. This is not always a bad thing, but, at least in today's climate, it usually is not a good thing either. People make dumb choices believing that they are doing the correct thing, and this is a driving force in the tragic art form. It is interesting that this TED talk can relate to tragedy, as it does not seem like it would straight out of the gate.
It's no secret that Oedipus Rex is a tragic story. In fact, it is one of the most commonly thought of plays when the topic of tragedy is discussed. Perhaps it's the combination of the main character doing everything in his power to avoid his tragic fate, and the innocent lives that are forever changed by this horrible event. Whatever the factors of the tragedy are, it is plain for all to see that it is brutally heartbreaking.
Oedipus Rex opens with everything seemingly going great for the beloved ruler of Thebes, Oedipus. He has recently saved the town from the Sphynx, and has been renowned as a hero. This is part of what makes the tragedy so raw. Everything completely changed for him, almost instantly, with no warning whatsoever. One moment, he's on top of the world, the next he's at the bottom of the hierarchy.
The next part of what makes this play so tragic, without giving spoilers to the plot and twist of the story, is the fact that he is the one causing the city's troubles. I won't address what he has done; I will just say that it was prophesied. His mother, his father, and Oedipus himself all tried their best to keep this terrible prophecy from becoming a reality, yet it still happened. The most tragic aspect out of all of this is that where there was once hope, there is not any more. The harsh realization, the loss of this hope, is what is staggeringly awful and tragic.
So, it is well established that Sophocles is a master of tragedy. Oedipus Rex is a never ending tirade of horrid event after horrid event. The loss of innocence, life, power, family, and dignity all wound up together in a nice little package. Because I do not want to spoil anything, I will not say anything more about this play, except that it is incredibly fun to read and a literary masterpiece.
Arthur Miller discusses tragedy, and how it relates to the society of today in his piece, "Tragedy and the Common Man." He opens by stating that "In this age, few tragedies are written." He attributes this to a lack of heros among us, as well as a lack of belief. He argues that, as a society, we have come to associate tragedy with the "archaic", or with those we deem to be higher than us. He then goes on to discuss why this is not, and should not, be true. "More simply, when the question of tragedy in art is not at issue, we never hesitate to attribute to the well-placed and the exalted the very same mental processes as the lowly." This quote nicely sums up the remainder of Miller's arguments on this particular subject.
Miller then goes on to describe tragedy, and what it means to him. Paraphrasing his words, his main point is that tragedy cannot exist without the possibility of success. It is only truly tragic when the protagonist has a shot at success, but fails anyways. The protagonist, Miller argues, must also be ready to lay down his life to secure his personal dignity.
These points really got me to thinking about my own definitions of tragedy, and what I imagine it to be. I had never really considered the point of the hero needing to be willing to lay down his life until now. The way in which Miller executed his argument and point has enlightened me. I had also toyed with the idea of success and failure and tragedy before, but had never put it together into a cohesive thought before. The prerequisite for the possibility of success was something that I had always known, but it was nice for Miller to put the thought into words that actually make sense. Overall, this article was extremely eye-opening, and has changed the way I think about the genre of tragedy.
Alain de Botton talks about failure in his TED Talk. He defines what it is, and how we are affected by it. He then goes on to discuss snobbery, and how it can impact us as humans. Using the premise that a 'snob' is someone that makes an assumption of someone or something at a first glance, de Botton then ties snobbery to envy. As humans, envy is a natural emotion for us. We are envious of the people that we can relate to, though we may have a harder time being envious of those we cannot. The natural thought process is "well he/she has done/has all that already, and we're the same age! I should be able to do/have that too!" The farther one gets from relatability, the harder it becomes to be envious. The example de Botton uses is the Queen of England. She has much more than the normal person, but she is so far removed from us that we cannot truly envy her.
de Botton then goes on to tie this idea into the idea of a meritocratic society, or a society that rewards you based on your merits. The basic principle is that if you work hard enough, you'll be on top. If you deserve to be on the bottom, you will be. That seems like a good system, but it poses some problems. If we say people are where they are because of their work ethic, and essentially their choice, we also say that people choose to be on the bottom of society. You're a loser and a failure if you do not reach the top of the theoretical meritocratic society.
The idea of a meritocratic society, that you are on the bottom because you are a loser and a failure, can be tied into tragedy. de Botton describes tragedy as how people fail. So, if failure makes you a loser, as it does in meritocratic society, then the classic tragedy heroes are all losers. This, however, cannot be true. Hamlet, for example, lost, but he was not a loser. His failure was not because he was a loser, it was because of the terrible circumstances of which he had little control over. As a society, we need to stop believing that these bad things happen to us because we are losers. Sometimes, things simply don't go the way we intend, and that's okay. We need to learn to define failure ourselves.
Tragedy, as I have come to understand it, is something incredibly sad. A tragedy may be something akin to a terrible accident, or an unexpected loss in the family. It is something that will have your peers patting you on the back in a comforting way, apologising for something they had no part in. When confronted with the word tragedy, too, one may also have thoughts of old plays and pieces of literature called to mind. Romeo and Juliet is a good example. The popular play is probably the piece most associated with tragedy; it is well-known, and undeniably, well, tragic.
According to Wikipedia, Tragedy is a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in audiences. The response of the audience is quite paradoxical; one would think that the dour topic would make audiences sad, as opposed to happy, which adds to the uniqueness to the genre that we have come to know as tragedy. Tragedy has very old roots- dating back to Greek theater, 2500 years ago. Many, many philosophers have studied, analyzed, and criticized the genre, including Plato, Aristotle, and Saint Augustine.
The revenge tragedy is really what you are thinking of when you call Romeo and Juliet a tragedy. A revenge tragedy is a form of tragedy involving the protagonist seeking revenge for a real or imagined injury. While this sub-genre is not as old as tragedy itself, it has a long history, beginning with Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy in 1587.
Overall, my initial definition of tragedy was more-or-less correct. Tragedy is a form of art that uses the dark, sad, and depressing to entertain an audience. In contrast to the dark themes and motifs of tragedies, however, the audience has an excited or happy reaction. This juxtaposition is an integral part to the interesting, and complex art form that is tragedy. Revenge tragedy is what is commonly thought of today when tragedy is discussed, and while the two are very similar, there are differences between the two. Tragedy is a very interesting genre, that can have many applications. Despite it's origins, thousands of years ago, it is still very much relevant in today's modern society.