Difference Between Classical Tragedy and Modern Tragedy

Main Difference

The main difference between classical tragedy and modern tragedy is that the classical tragedy has a unified plot with one noble or royal protagonist and modern tragedy features ordinary people with real problems.

Classical Tragedy vs. Modern Tragedy

Classical tragedy mainly has one main or central character. Modern tragedy may have more than one central character. In the classical tragedy, the protagonist is typically from a wealthy, noble or royal family. In modern tragedy, the protagonist usually has a common, middle-class background. The protagonist of a classical tragedy usually has a noble and heroic character but has a tragic flaw. The protagonist of modern tragedy may have a white, black or gray character. Classical tragedy has one unified plot. Modern tragedy may have more than one or multiple plots. Classical tragedies usually have one and period. Modern tragedies have more than one and realistic periods; there are breaks and flashbacks. The story of classical tragedy is about the hero’s nobility or royalty, their ambitions, attempts to unify or save a kingdom, etc. The story of a modern tragedy is about ordinary people and their ambitions, problems, and aspirations; thus, making the stories are more realistic. The important elements of classical tragedy are fate and divine power. The basic elements of modern tragedy are realistic and common problems. In the classical tragedy, the protagonist faces his downfall because of his tragic flaw. In modern tragedy, the traditional tragic flaw remains intact. The classic tragedy is full of violence and onstage death. Modern tragedy lacks violence especially death. Offstage, the death is the popular trend in modern tragedy. Classic tragedy contains a large number of characters. The characters other than the protagonist shows less impact on drama. Modem tragedies contain very few numbers of characters, and most of them have much impact on drama.

Comparison Chart

Classical TragedyModern Tragedy
Originates from Greek literary tradition and defines a single tragic plot as a protagonist with a royal or noble character losing through his pride and prize.The tragedies that were written and performed from the twentieth century and redefines the genre with ordinary protagonists, multiple plots, and realistic settings.
Plot
UnifiedMultiple
Elements
Hubris, hamartia, peripeteia, catharsisIrony, sarcasm
Timeline
One periodMore realistic time spans with breaks and flashbacks
Central Character
OneMore than one

What is Classical Tragedy?

Classical tragedy is a famous form of drama that originates from Greek literary tradition. It defines a tragic plot as one with a noble or royal character losing, through his pride and prize. These brave, royal and noble heroes often face a reversal of their fortune. This reversal is typically due to the influence of divine power or the tragic flaw in the character. Fate also plays a main role in classical tragedies. Classical tragedy preserves the unities, one-time span, one setting, one story as it was originated in the Greek theater. The timeline and place settings of classic tragedies are very large, and the basic concept is vengeance, i.e., Hamlet. The protagonist is from elite class or higher estate in classical tragedy. Tragic Flaw, bloodshed, disaster, and death are the common elements in classical tragedy, and the incidents of a tragedy rotate with the protagonist. The classic tragedy is full of violence and on-stage death, e.g., Macbeth. Some elements of the classical tragedy are; Hamartia (a mistake made by a morally good person that is committed in ignorance), Hubris (the false pride that leads to ruin), Peripeteia (the reversal of fortune) and Catharsis (emotional release at the end of the tragedy).

Examples

  • Oedipus Rex
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Hamlet, Medea
  • Antigone
  • Prometheus Bound

What is Modern Tragedy?

Modern tragedy refers to the tragedies that were written and performed from the twentieth century. This tragedy redefines the genre with ordinary protagonists, multiple plots, and realistic timelines and settings. The characters of modern tragedy are mainly from the middle class. Time is very limited, and place settings are quite smaller in modern tragedy. Modern tragedy is typically centered around common and ordinary people and their problem making it more realistic. The conflict in modern tragedy is mainly caused by flaws in the characters, society or the law. Fate and divine power do not or rarely play a role in modern tragedy. The period is for several weeks, months or years. The differences in time in the modern tragedy is managed by elements such as pauses, flashbacks, flash-forwards, and narrations. The protagonist of modern tragedy may have a white, black or gray character. The Modern tragedy may have more than one or multiple plots, many characters and more than one and realistic periods. The story of a modern tragedy is typically about ordinary people and their ambitions, problems, and aspirations. Modern tragedy wrights also contain elements such as irony and sarcasm to highlight the flaws in characters.

Examples

  • Death of a Salesman
  • A View from the Bridge
  • The Misfits
  • Glengarry Glen Ross

Key Differences

  1. The Classical tragedy has one unified plot with one-time span whereas the modern tragedy has more than one or multiple plots with many periods and flashbacks.
  2. In the classical tragedy, the protagonist is typically from a wealthy, noble or royal family on the other hand in the modern tragedy; the protagonist usually has a common, middle-class background.
  3. Classical tragedy mainly has one main or central character conversely modern tragedy may have more than one central character.
  4. Classical tragedy typically contains elements such as hubris, hamartia, peripeteia, and catharsis while modern tragedy uses elements like irony and sarcasm.
  5. The important elements of classical tragedy are fate and divine power on the flip side; the basic elements of modern tragedy are realistic and common problems.

Conclusion

Both classical and modern tragedies have a tragic end with several differences between them. But the importance of classical tragedy and modern tragedy remains at their place.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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