A Discourse on TragedyEnglish 9 PIB 02.26.
2000What is a tragedy? In modern times, tragedies are very rare, butcenturies before, in the 1500s, tragedies were a common genre; and Romeoand Juliet by William Shakespeare was a common tragedy. During the 1500s, agreat era of learning, creativity, and imagination swept over Europe. Itwas known as the Enlightenment Era. William Shakespeare grew up in thisperiod of imagination, and through the freedom and romanticism of this era,he became known as one of the greatest playwrights in history. His playswere made up of comedies and tragedies. A tragedy was more important,because it broke all the rules of a traditional play or story. It containeda plot sequence that was an almost reciprocal to the traditional sequence,but surprisingly, it worked. A tragedy is comprised of variousdistinguishing aspects.
In some cases, a tragedy has only foreshadowing,rising action, a major conflict, and there is no real hope of a goodending, as there is in many modern stories or novels. Romeo and Juliet is atragedy because it constitutes several of these distinguishing properties,more specifically: a tragic flaw in one of the main characters, an”opposite order” of the normal plot sequence, and a resolution that isambiguous until the final scenes. When this resolution is finally revealed,it is the exact antithesis of what a resolution actually is.Tragic flaws are often common in all stories, but they play a keyrole in tragedies. A main character’s tragic flaw can set a story, play, ornovel in a “descending chain reaction”. As the main character falls, othercharacters fall with him, and finally, the whole story collapses intodepression, resulting in a tragedy. This is definitely the case with Romeoand Juliet. Both of the main characters, Romeo Montague, a love-struckyoung man living in Verona, Italy, and Juliet Capulet, a 14 year old girlalso living in Verona, have a common tragic flaw.
The flaw is revealedthrough a certain type of indrectness; their actions clearly hint at a flawin their personalities. William Shakespeare created innocent characters inRomeo and Juliet. Both are in love with each other, but since theirfamilies were feuding with each other, fate did not want them to betogether.
However, both Romeo and Juliet rushed to get their marriagestraightened out. When Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, was killed, he took notime getting revenge. And when Juliet’s nurse came back to tell her of thenews with Romeo, Juliet seemed the least bit worried about what the nursewent through to get the news; she was only worried about herself. She wasimpatient and hasty. That was the tragic flaw. Juliet and Romeo were hastyin their decisions and actions; they didn’t stop to consider theconsequences of the marriage, or what would happen if Romeo had killedTybalt (Mercutio’s killer), or if Juliet had taken the potion that set thefinal, dreadful scene into motion.A normal plot sequence goes as follows: exposition – narrative hook -rising action – climax – falling action – resolution.
However, in atragedy, the normal plot sequence is cut in certain places andreconfigured. The exposition would lead into the narrative hook, whichwould lead to the rising action as normal. This is seen as characterizationof Romeo develops; we learn about his background and how he was dumped byRosaline, how he went to the Capulet ball, how he meets Juliet, and howJuliet finds out that he is a Montague, a fueding family of her family, theCapulets. However, the rising action would suddenly become a sort ofgradual climax, where the reader’s interest fluctuates through dramaticirony. Romeo and Juliet become involved with their love, and the tragicflaw of hastiness and impatience begins to emerge as they get married.Paris proposes to marry the already-married Juliet on a Thursday, anddramatic irony makes its appearance. The reader knows that certain scenessuch as the marriage between Romeo and Juliet are happening in thebackground, but it interests the reader that characters in the story suchas Paris or Capulet do not know this. The climax now becomes the turningpoint of the story, rather than the high point of the reader’s interest.
Insome cases, it can be, but in tragedies, it is mostly where the story takesa turn for the worse, and the outcomes can almost be predicted. Thisturning point is when Juliet drinks the potion. It is not exactly theclimax, because the reader’s interest is focused on the future. Questionsbreak loose within the reader’s mind: What will happen next? What will bethe outcome of this event? There is still more rising action to follow theclimax – it doesn’t just proceed into the falling action phase of a normalplot sequence.
If the normal plot sequence were graphed, it would looksomewhat like a looping ‘n’ or parabola, where the climax would be the tipof the ‘n’. In a tragedy, however, the graph would be much bigger, due tothe long rising action. In fact, the graph would overlap itself in someplaces, because the narrative hook is not always introduced suddenly. It isgradually revealed, until it finally becomes a case of dramatic irony.Therefore, it is determined that in a tragedy, the rising actionconstitutes much of the revealing of the conflict. Romeo and Juliet showsthis attribute of rising action. Throughout the rising action, Romeo andJuliet face further sub-conflicts.
Paris decides to marry Juliet earlierthan usual, Romeo kills Tybalt, and Friar Lawrence’s message doesn’t reachRomeo in time. As the graph continues to rise, there would be a sudden,brief moment, near the ending, which includes most of the action, and thegraph would suddenly drop down toward the resolution, which, in the case ofRomeo and Juliet, is after Romeo, Juliet, and Paris are dead; it is whenFriar Lawrence, Balthasar, and the Page summarize all the events thathappened in the story so far. The graph would look somewhat like: /|.This almost looks like a very distorted ‘n’.A resolution is probably one of the most important parts of a story,play, or novel, according to the reader. The reader usually wants asummarization or a nice twist to end it all up.
In a normal story, theresolution is calm, relaxed, and reverberates the plot. In some cases,there might be sudden twists to the story, but the twist to the plotsequence is sudden and quick. In a tragedy, the resolution is very unique.Instead of coming after the falling action, it comes directly after therising action, which means that when a tragedy’s ending is truly tragic, itis of no surprise. Through tragic flaws and the horribly long risingaction, the reader surely knows that the story, novel, or play he or she isreading is a tragedy, long before the actual ‘tragedy’ scene occurs, whichis usually in the ‘resolution’. However, you can never tell. A knowledge ofthe type of story a person is reading could possibly not come until thevery end. It all depends on the reader’s style of reading.
Romeo andJuliet contains exactly this format. Right after Friar Lawrence realizesthat his letter was not delivered, the scene changes to the graveyard,where Romeo fights and kills Paris, and kills himself in Juliet’s tomb. Theresolution was somewhat quick, but for many, it was not exactly a ‘twist’,because the plot sequence in the story was such that the sad ending waseasily predicted.Through all the tragic flaws, the distorted plot sequence, and theinverted resolution, it is clear that Romeo and Juliet is exactly what itwas meant to be – a tragedy. In some cases, a person can not distinguish atragedy from a normal story but in those cases, the person needs to lookbeyond traditional boundaries and into the story itself.
It is at thispoint when they truly understand the story, and in turn, understanding oneof the small parts that come with understanding a story – the genre, whichin Romeo and Juliet, is a tragedy. The importance of understandingtragedies does not just mean that you can identify other tragedies better;it can also mean that you can understand many other types of genres, suchas comedies – another one of Shakespeare’s talents. Romeo and Juliet is aperfect example of tragedy, irony, and playwrighting. It may or may nothave been one of Shakespeare’s goals to do all this, but he did want toaccomplish one aspect of the story – he wanted it to become a great play.That goal was clearly accomplished.