The term 'Tragedy' is used in a common parlance, and yet it cannot be reduced to a formula, for it has so many shades that it actually defies a logical analysis. An American critic has admirable summed up Tragedy in a few words: "Courage and inevitable defeat." Now-a-days we can never think of a Tragedy without an unhappy ending. But the Greeks did. Philoctetes by Sophocles, for example, has no unhappy ending. There is a similarity between the ancient Greek Tragedy and a modern Tragedy. The hero and certain other characters are caught in a difficult situation.
The character and plot in most of Tragedies are linked up. In Greek Tragedies fate played a very important part, but after the Renaissance character became more and more prominent. In some of Shakespearian Tragedies, despite the importance of character, the motivation of action comes from the supernatural forces or even external circumstances.
In modern Tragedies, the hero is often the victim of social forces.
Aristotle defined Tragedy as "a representation of an action, which is serious; complete in itself, and of a certain length; it is expressed in speech made beautiful in different ways in different parts of the play; it is acted, not narrated; and by exciting pity and fear it gives a healthy relief to such emotions."
Tragedy must be spoudaious i.e. noble, serious, and elevated. The Greek root for Tragedy is tragoidia, which means something serious, but not necessarily a drama with an unhappy ending. Plato has called Homer's Odyssey a Tragedy, though it is not drama. Seriousness of subject is what really matters.
Tragedy, F. L. Lucas maintains, had three different meanings in the three periods of literary history. In ancient times, a Tragedy meant a serious drama; in medieval times, a Tragedy meant a story with...