Essay, Research Paper
A Comparison of Tragedy in English Works
For a story to be a tragedy it has to follow the principles set by
Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, or those of Arthur Miller who is a twentieth
century playwright. A tragedy, in Aristotle’s view, usually concerns the fall
of an individual whose character is good but not perfect and his misfortunes are
brought about by the tragic flaw. This flaw is the part of the character that
personifies him as being tragic. Miller uses this definition of a tragedy but
also broadens it including the common man. All of these characteristics are
seen in the plays Julius Caesar, Death of a Salesman, and Oedipus Rex.
Although the title of the play Julius Caesar focuses on Caesar, the
play itself is really based on Brutus. “Brutus had rather be a villager than to
repute himself a son of Rome.”(Act I, scene II, line 172). This was said by
Brutus after Cassius told him how Caesar had become a towering figure over Rome
and how Caesar controls Rome. Notice the good in Brutus, and the extremes he
will go to in order to protect democracy in Rome even if it means killing the
one he loves, Caesar. Brutus possesses one of the most tragic flaws. He is too
nice of a person and therefore he gets taken advantage of. He lets Cassius
persuade him into killing Caesar for the good of Rome. Because he does for
others more than himself he makes a fatal mistake, he lets Antony live. Brutus
says to the conspirators, “For Antony is but a limb of Caesar”(Act II scene I
line 165) meaning that if Caesar is killed Antony will die off too. Brutus
clearly does not regard Antony as being a threat, but little does Brutus know
that Antony will stir up the town to seek revenge after the assassination of
Caesar. This mistake will cost him his own life. When he dies he becomes a prime
example of tragedy because not only did he bring about his own death he dies by
his own hand.
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Lowman’s tragic flaw is that he is a
dreamer who is unable to face the realities of a modern day society. Willy
builds his whole life around the philosophy that if a person is well liked and
good looking then he will be successful. Willy says to Biff , “I thank Almighty
God that you are both are built like Adonises.”(Act I page 33) Later, Willy
makes the comment, “Be liked and you will never want.”(Act I page 33) His need
to be well liked is so strong that he often lies about his success; at times he
even believes his own lies. Willy always thinks his sons will always be
successful because they are good looking and good at sports, but in reality they
are failures just like Willy. At the end when Biff tries to tell Willy that he
is just a commoner and that he cannot live up to his father’s expectations, that
they are “a dime a dozen.” Willy thinks he is just saying this to spite him.
Willy says, “I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff
Loman!”(act II page 132). After this Willy decides to commit suicide so Biff can
get the twenty thousand dollar insurance money and he will finally make
something of himself. “He had the wrong dreams”(requiem page 138) states Biff at
Willy’s funeral, but Charley, Willy’s best friend, says “A salesman is got to
dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”(requiem page 138) Unfortunately, Willy
never realized that his dreams and values were flawed and he died for it.
In Oedipus Rex Oedipus has a flaw that is unavoidable and also
uncontrollable. His flaw is fate. The plot juxtaposes Oedipus’s ignorance to
his own identity with his tragic despair as he learns that he has killed his
father and married his mother. Oedipus refuses to believe all of the prophecies
until his prophet finally discloses the truth. He knows that he is the one who
killed his father because he is the one who murdered Laius who in fact turned
out to be his father that tried to get rid of him. After his wife, Jocasta,
finds out that Oedipus knows the truth she commits suicide. “How could I bear
to see when all my sight was horror everywhere?”(ode 4 line 1289) This is said
after Oedipus punishes himself by digging his eyes out. Oedipus then wanders
the land a beggar guided by his daughter, Antigone.
Clearly, then, all of these stories represent a great example of tragedy.
They follow the rules preset by Aristotle and also the rules of Arthur Miller.
We have sympathy for the protagonist in each play but at the same time we know
that their down fall is brought about by their own ignorance. Even though the
character is tragic he is also a great man because they suffer for the well
being of others.