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Essay/Term paper: Comparison of tragedy

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Greek Mythology

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A Comparison of Tragedy

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.


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