- Books, Literature, and Writing»
All About Tragedy!
Tragedy is kind of drama that presents a serious subject matter about human suffering and corresponding terrible events in a dignified manner. The term is of Greek origin, dating back to the 5th century BC. It was a name assigned by the Greeks to a specific form of plays performed on festivals in Greece. Greek tragedy is an extension of the ancient rites carried out in honor of Dionysus, and it heavily influenced the theatre of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance. Tragic plots were most often based upon myths from the oral traditions of archaic epics. The local governments supported such plays and the mood surrounding the presentation of these plays was that of a religious ceremony, as the entire community along with the grand priest attended the performances. The three prominent Greek dramatists were Aeschylus (The Persians, The trilogy Oresteia, Agamemnon, Seven Against Thebes), Sophocles (Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra), and Euripides (Alcestis, Medea). Aristotle defines Tragedy in his famous work “Poetics” as: “Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete (composed of an introduction, a middle part and an ending), and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions.” The medium of imitation is ‘language made beautiful by different means’. The manner of imitation is direct presentation. The purpose of imitation is to bring about the ‘purgation’ of emotions like pity and fear.
According to Aristotle, there are six constituent parts of a tragedy: Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Song and Spectacle. Plot, Character and Thought are concerned with the objects of representation. Diction and Song (Melody) have to do with the means of representation; and spectacle relates to the manner of representation.
Plot (Mythos): Refers to the "structure of incidents" (actions). Key elements of the plot are reversals, recognition, and suffering. The best plot should be "complex" (i.e. involve a change of fortune). It should imitate actions arousing fear and pity. Thus it should proceed from good fortune to bad and involve a high degree of suffering for the protagonist, usually involving physical harm or death. “Plot” is the most important part because it involves ‘action’; and according to the definition, ‘A tragedy is the imitation of action’ not of men or characters. According to him, Plot is of first importance, character is second. So he says: “Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of an action and of life, and life consists in action”. And he concludes that “Without action there cannot be a tragedy, there may be without character”. Aristotle considers plot “the first principle, the soul of Tragedy." Aristotle’s action means ‘process’ not ‘activity.’ A play without action, in this sense, would be a play in which nothing happens—in which there is no beginning-no end; no cause & effect chain. A good plot must have a beginning, middle and end: “A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by casual necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself follows that some other things, either by necessity, or as a rule but has nothing following. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows.” When a character is unfortunate by reversal of fortune, at first he suffers (pathos) and then he can realize (anagnorisis) the cause of his misery or a way to be released from the misery.
Characterization (Ethos): According to Aristotle, the characters must be good; they must be appropriate; they must have life-likeness, and they must have consistency. The tragic hero should neither be perfectly good nor utterly bad, occupying a position of eminence, and falling into ruin from that eminence, not because of any deliberate wickedness, but because of some error of judgment on his part.
Thought (Dianoia): Thought is “the power of saying whatever can be said, or what is appropriate to the occasion.” Thought is the intellectual element in a Tragedy, and it is expressed through the speech of a character. This implies that only such speeches are significant as they express the views and feelings of a character. It's the spoken reasoning of human characters that can explain the characters or story background.
Diction (Lexis): Diction is one of the six components of tragedy and has to do with the way the language of the play is delivered by the actors. Diction refers to the writer's or the speaker's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a poem or story. Refers to the quality of speech in tragedy. Speeches should reflect character, the moral qualities of those on the stage. The expression of the meaning of the words.
Song or Melody (Melos): Song or the lyrical element is to be found in the choric parts of a Tragedy, it is the 'embellishment' which distinguishes the Tragedy from the Epic. It is this element that makes Tragedy pleasant. The lines assigned to the chorus in a tragedy are usually conveyed in song accompanied by rhythmical movement. The Chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors. It should be an integral part of the whole, and share in the action. Should be contributed to the unity of the plot. It is a very real factor in the pleasure of the drama.
Spectacle (Opsis): Refers to the visual apparatus of the play, including set, costumes and props. Aristotle calls spectacle the "least artistic" element of tragedy, and the "least connected with the work of the poet (playwright). According to him the art of the spectacle really belongs to the set designer and not to the poet.
Rules for the construction of a tragedy: Tragic pleasure, or catharsis experienced by fear and pity should be produced in the spectator. The characters must be: good, appropriate, realistic, and consistent. Discovery must occur within the plot. It is important for the poet to visualize all of the scenes when creating the plot. The poet should incorporate complication and dénouement within the story, as well as combine all of the elements of tragedy. The poet must express thought through the characters' words and actions, while paying close attention to diction and how a character's spoken words express a specific idea.
Catharsis: Catharsis is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body. In his Poetics, Aristotle projected the theory of Catharsis as a reply to Plato’s objections to the tragedy. Catharsis refers to the effect of the tragedy on the human heart. Catharsis means cleansing of the heart from the harder passions by arousing the feelings of fear and pity through the sufferings and death of a tragic hero. It is catharsis, which transforms disturbing emotions into what Milton calls “Calm of mind, all passions spent.” Aristotle says- “pity is occasioned by undeserved misfortunes and fear by that of one like ourselves.” ; “The spectator is lifted out of himself. He becomes one with the tragic sufferer and through him with the humanity at large”. Aristotle wanted to communicate this effect of tragedy to Plato, who depreciated tragedy saying that it makes man lose his proper personality. Aristotle suggests that the tragic experience helps man to forget his own petty sufferings and identity himself with the fate of mankind. Thus Catharsis refers to the effect of the tragedy on the human heart.
Peripeteia: Peripeteia is a reversal of circumstances, or turning point. The term is primarily used with reference to works of literature. The Anglicized form of peripeteia is peripety. Aristotle, in his Poetics, defines peripeteia as "a change by which the action veers round to its opposite, subject always to our rule of probability or necessity." Aristotle says that peripeteia is the most powerful part of a plot in a tragedy along with discovery.
Anagnorisis: Anagnorisis is a moment in a play or other work when a character makes a critical discovery. Anagnorisis originally meant recognition in its Greek context, not only of a person but also of what that person stood for. Anagnorisis is the hero's sudden awareness of a real situation, the realisation of things as they stood, and finally, the hero's insight into a relationship with an often antagonistic character in Aristotelian tragedy. In his Poetics, as part of his discussion of peripeteia, Aristotle defined anagnorisis as "a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune."
Hamartia: The term hamartia means "to miss the mark" or "to err". It is most often associated with Greek tragedy, although it is also used in Christian theology. Hamartia as it pertains to dramatic literature was first used by Aristotle in his Poetics. In tragedy, hamartia is commonly understood to refer to the protagonist’s error or flaw that leads to a chain of plot actions culminating in a reversal from their good fortune to bad. What qualifies as the error or flaw can include an error resulting from ignorance, an error of judgement, a flaw in character, or sin. The spectrum of meanings has invited debate among critics and scholars, and different interpretations among dramatists.
Hubris: Hubris refers to a purely negative emotion that may be defined verbally in a modern context as extreme or foolish pride or confidence. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. But in its ancient Greek context, it typically describes violent behavior rather than an attitude.
Unities of Drama: Aristotle emphasizes only one of the three unities, the Unity of Action. He is against plurality of action as it weakens the tragic effect. There might be a number of incidents but they must be causally connected with each other, and they must all be conducive to one effect, the effect aimed at by the dramatist. Comparing the Epic and the Tragedy he writes, “Tragedy tries as far as possible, to live within a single revolution of the sun, or only slightly to exceed it, whereas the Epic observes no limits in its time of action.” He never makes a mention of Unity of Place.
Tragedy as artistically superior to epic poetry: Tragedy has everything that the epic has, even the epic meter being admissible. Aristotle says- “All the parts of an Epic are included in Tragedy but those of Tragedy are not all of them to he found in the Epic.“ The reality of presentation is felt in the play as read, as well as in the play as acted. The tragic imitation requires less space for the attainment of its end. If it has more concentrated effect, it is more pleasurable than one with a large admixture of time to dilute it. There is less unity in the imitation of the epic poets (plurality of actions) and this is proved by the fact that an epic poem can supply enough material for several tragedies. Where the epic poem makes use of language alone, Greek tragic drama included a singing chorus, and so music and language were all part of the performance.
Tragic Pleasure: The ultimate aim of Tragedy is to give aesthetic pleasure. Aristotle recognized the value of the emotional effects of poetry. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed in the emotional triumph of Tragedy. The pleasure is derived partly from our natural sense of harmony and rhythm. Verse and rhythms are not necessary, but they certainly enhance the pleasure of poetry. It is also derived partly from the instinct of imitation; it is pleasure arising from seeing a thing, or action, well-imitated. A successful Tragedy gives pleasure, because it satisfies our basic instinct of imitation. Tragedy imitates action and life, its pain and misery, and if this imitation is well done, it is gripping and absorbing. There is a local emotional identification of the spectator with the person who suffers on the stage. Peripeteia and Anagnorisis are commended by Aristotle because they heighten the seductive power—the gripping interest—of the action. Pure pleasure results from the exercise of our emotions, senses, and thought on the tragic action. In this way, we smile through our tears; Catharsis purges our emotions. Tragedy also gives pleasure because it results in enhanced understanding of life, its problems and our surrounding universe. It provides a kind of inner illumination.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said ‘No conflict, no drama’. Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. The agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. Drama that lacks conflict is normally dull and uninspiring. As a rule, conflict should always be considered an essential ingredient for all dramatic performances. Conflict can be between two or more characters, or simply one (inner conflict). The basic types of conflict in fiction have been commonly codified as "man against man", "man against nature", "man against society", and "man against self."
An internal or psychological conflict arises as soon as a character experiences two opposite emotions or desires; usually virtue or vice, or good and evil inside him. This disagreement causes a character to suffer mental agony. Internal conflict develops a unique tension in a storyline marked by a lack of action.
External conflict, on the other hand, is marked by a characteristic involvement of an action wherein a character finds himself in struggle with those outside forces that hamper his progress. The most common type of an external conflict is where a protagonist fights back against the antagonist’s tactics that impede his or her advancement.
Many Elizabethan soliloquies contain inner conflict (‘To be or not to be’ is an excellent example). Conflict on stage can be verbal, physical or non-verbal (psychological). Conflict creates tension and interest in a story by adding doubt as to the outcome. A narrative is not limited to a single conflict. While conflicts may not always resolve in narrative, the resolution of a conflict creates closure, which may or may not occur at a story's end. When a conflict is resolved and the reader discovers which force or character succeeds, it creates a sense of closure.
Hamlet’s internal conflict is the main conflict in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. This internal conflict decides his tragic downfall. He reveals his state of mind in the following lines from Act 3, Scene 1 of the play:
To be, or not to be - that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep
The conflict here is that he wants to kill his father’s murderer Claudius but he also looks for proof to justify his action, ultimately ruining his life and the lives of his loved ones. Due to his internal conflict, he spoils his relationship with his mother and sends Ophelia (Hamlet’s love interest) into such a state of despair that she commits suicide. Hamlet’s internal conflict, which is regarded as indecisiveness, almost got everyone killed at the end of the play. The resolution to the conflict came when he killed Claudius by assuming fake madness so that he would not be asked for any justification. In the same play, we find Hamlet engaged in an external conflict with his uncle Claudius.
Another example of an internal conflict is found in the character of Doctor Faustus in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”. Faustus has an ambitious nature. In spite of being a respected scholar, he sold his soul to “Lucifer” by signing a contract with his blood for achieving ultimate power and limitless pleasure in this world. He learns the art of black magic and defies Christianity. After the aforementioned action, we see Faustus suffering from an internal conflict where he thinks honestly about repenting, acting upon the advice of “the good angel” but “the bad angel” or the evil inside him distracts him by telling that it is all too late. In conclusion, the conflict is resolved when devils take his soul away to Hell and he suffers eternal damnation because of his over-ambition.
Function of Conflict: Both internal and external conflicts are essential elements of a storyline. It is essential for a writer to introduce and develop conflict, internal or external or both, in his storyline in order to achieve a story goal i.e. the resolution of a conflict in order to entertain his readers.
Greek Tragedy Vs. Shakespearean Tragedy
The essence of tragedy, be it Greek or Shakespearean, is the rendering of human suffering and a contemplation of the nature of man’s destiny in relation to the universe. But an in-depth analysis of the features of tragic drama as was in vogue in ancient Greece reveals that in structure and conceptualization, classical Greek drama has some differences with the tragedy as practiced in the Elizabethan times, especially by Shakespeare.
1. Greek tragic actors wore masks that covered their entire faces, whereas Shakespeare's players did not. Greek tragedies also had a smaller number of actors who spoke in a single scene than in Shakespeare’s plays. In a typical scene from a Greek tragedy, it is fairly rare for more than two actors to speak to one another. Shakespeare’s tragedies also lack the 12, 15 or 24 members' chorus found in the earlier Greek tragedies. But whereas in Greek drama the chorus offered time gaps between two sets of tragic actions; in a Shakespeare play this is achieved by comic relief. An ideal example is the Porter Scene in Macbeth. In a classical play there were no room for comic elements in a tragic actions, but Shakespeare so artistically manipulates characters like Fool in King Lear that they become integral to the tragic action.
2. The theaters themselves were also different. How much of a stage was present in ancient Greece is a matter of debate. The primary acting space in a Greek theater seems to have been the orchestra, a large circular space that frequently had an altar in the middle of it. This is not the case in Shakespearean theater. Also, Greek plays were always staged outdoors and during the day. Again, Shakespearean tragedies could be performed in indoor theaters.
3. A study of the tragedies written by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus, shows that ancient Greek tragedy is basically modeled upon an essentially religious weltanschauung. Accordingly, Greek tragedy represents the philosophy of men’s puny insignificance in the face of a colossal divine power that controls and mostly destroys human life. The emphasis here is laid upon the inscrutable power of Fate or Destiny, capable of bringing about havoc and ruin to human life. The utter helplessness of men in his struggle against such a malevolent and uncontrollable divine power is the substance of classical Greek tragedy. The most obvious example is that of Oedipus; Similar examples are Sophocles’ Antigone or Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. The most striking contrast in this fatalistic world view of the Greeks’ is found in Shakespearean tragedy where the entire emphasis is laid upon the responsibility of the individual in bringing about his ruin. But although in Shakespearean tragedy, the emphasis is upon human action independent of Destiny, the impression of fate working upon man is not totally negated. For instance, there is no doubt that Macbeth’s ambition leads to his sacrilegious murder of Duncan which results is his doom, but there is also the impression of the witches that precipitate his murder. The Greeks had a theocentric vision while the Elizabethans, motivated by the Renaissance laid stress on the vision of an anthropocentric universe. Hence crux of tragic action lay with a divine power in Greek tragedies while the individual hero and his actions were of prime importance in a Shakespearean tragedy.
4. Greek tragedies were performed as part of religious festivals devoted to the god Dionysus. Shakespearean tragedies do not have this religious alignment.
5. In matters of structure, the Greeks were much more fastidious about the unity of action. The unity of action implies that the action represented in a play should be just one single whole without any digressions what so ever. But Shakespearean tragedy completely dispenses of these three unities. A Shakespearean tragedy takes place often in two or three places, and the time taken is much more than twenty-four hours, often spurning a month or even more. Moreover, often in plays like king Lear or Hamlet there are sub plots which run counter to the Greek notion of the unity of action.
6. Finally, the introduction of ghost, witches, strange visions and fearful phenomena that is the 'deus ex machina' or the supernatural apparatus, which is so rampant in Shakespeare, is never made use of in Greek tragedies. The witches in Macbeth or Banquo’s Ghost in the same play, or the Ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet or Caesar’s spirit in Julius Caesar are all supernatural instruments bringing horror, which the Greeks avoided.
It should, however, be kept in mind that these differences in convention and style should never blind us from the truth that both Shakespeare and Greek tragedies fulfill the same purpose of presenting before us the enormous vision of human grandeur that issues from the struggle of man against transient forces either at work within him or outside and that both these two types of tragedies show that heroism lies not in victory or defeat but in courageous endurance of pain and hostility.
Development of Drama: It is rightly said that “the origins of drama have always been deeply rooted in the religious instincts of mankind.” In fact Churches became the cradle of the English drama. In middle ages church was given great importance and this church was the cradle of drama in those days. In order to preach the ignorant mass the clergy seemed eager to show them scriptural story in a visible form during special festivals as in Christmas or Easter. The plays were performed inside the church. Liturgical drama, in the Middle Ages, type of play acted within or near the church and relating stories from the Bible and of the saints. They treated of such stories from the Bible as the Creation, the Flood, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of the Saviour. These plays were acted in Latin and very few people could actually understand them. After the Norman Conquest in place of Latin, the liturgical play followed the French pattern and finally in place of French, vernacular English was used as the language. The crowds became more interested and they started to throng inside the church. As a result the church yard was opened and finally drama came to the open market place. The organization had begun to pass from Church to lay hands. From the clergy, control first passed to the religious and social guilds and then to the trade guilds under the general control of the council of the town. There were Guilds such as Chester cycle, York cycle, Wakefield cycle and Coventry cycle (These cycles took their names after the names of the Towns). For the outdoor performances only summer festivals were really suitable. Most of the plays of the different cycle began to attach themselves to the feast of Corpus Christi which fell in May on June when the weather was likely to be good and the hours of daylight were long. Liturgical drama or religious drama, in its various Christian contexts, originates from the Mass itself, and usually presents a relatively complex ritual that includes theatrical elements. Until the Late Middle Ages it is the best recorded tradition of religious drama, and is assumed to have been the root from which other forms such as the civic mystery plays, as well as poorly recorded travelling companies, grew. Briefly stated, the drama in England developed from the liturgical play to the miracle & morality play, from the morality play to the interlude, and from that to the regular drama of the Elizabethan age.
Mystery & Miracle Plays: It has been called the Biblical plays ‘Mystery’ and those dealing with saints’ lives ‘Miracles'. This division has come from France. Though these kinds of plays were performed at first inside the church, gradually through the hands of four notable cycles they come to the open market. All the cycles more or less took the materials from the episodes of the Old and New Testaments. Their aim was to reveal to the common crowd the entire story of the human world from the Creation to the Resurrection from a christian view point.
The Morality Play: This plays were named so because of its association with some moral or ethical instruction. A Morality is a kind of allegorical play. The characters are personified. The play is concerned with the conflict between good and evil over the possession of human soul. Some examples are Everyman, Mankind, The Castle of Perseverance, The Three Estates.
The Interludes: The interlude signifies dramas of early Tudor period. It appeared towards the end of the 15th century. It dispensed with the allegorical figures of the morality play, effected a break with the religious type of drama, even though retaining some of its didactic character - it was purely secular and fairly realistic. The most notable writer of interludes was John Heywood whose The Four P’s was very famous.
The revenge tragedy genre of English literature generally refers to a body of dramatic works written from the mid-1580s to the early 1640s, from the Elizabethan to the Caroline period. Typically, these works feature such themes and devices as a wronged revenge-seeker, ghosts, madness, delay, sinister intrigue, a play-within-the-play, torture, multiple murders, and the realistic depiction of bloody violence onstage. Nearly all of the major playwrights of the time contributed to this class of drama, including Thomas Kyd, William Shakespeare, John Marston, George Chapman, Cyril Tourneur, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, James Shirley, and John Ford. The revenge drama derived originally from the Roman tragedies of Seneca but was established on the English stage by Thomas Kyd with The Spanish Tragedy (performed c. 1587). This work deals with Hieronimo, a Spanish gentleman who is driven to melancholy by the murder of his son. Between spells of madness, he discovers who the murderers are and plans his ingenious revenge. He stages a play in which the murderers take part, and, while enacting his role, Hieronimo actually kills them, then kills himself. The influence of this play, so apparent in Hamlet (performed c. 1600–01), is also evident in other plays of the period. Commentators have also observed that some other early revenge tragedies such as George Peele's The Battle of Alcazar (1590), and Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (1594) tend to reflect this undisciplined model as well.
George Chapman- Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois.
Henry Chettle- The Tragedy of Hoffman.
John Fletcher- The Maid's Tragedy [with Francis Beamont], & Valentinian.
John Ford- The Broken Heart, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.
Thomas Kyd- The Spanish Tragedy, Ur-Hamlet.
John Marston- Antonio's Revenge.
Thomas Middleton- Women Beware Women, The Changeling.George Peele- The Battle of Alcazar.
William Shakespeare- Titus Andronicus, Hamlet.
Cyril Tourneur- The Revenger's Tragedy, The Atheist's Tragedy.
John Webster- The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi.
Modern Tragedy: Modern Tragedy first started getting popularity in late 19th & early 20th century, and came out with all guns blazing after the World War II. In modern literature, the definition of tragedy has become less precise. The most fundamental change has been the rejection of Aristotle's dictum that true tragedy can only depict those with power and high status. The old worn out style of Tragedy of England became an act of past, the cult of hero worship was gone in the age of individualism. Arthur Miller's essay "Tragedy and the Common Man" (1949) argues that tragedy may also depict ordinary people in domestic surroundings. Miller states, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.” He then gives his definition of a modern tragic hero: “The tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character, who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing– his sense of personal dignity". Ordinary man and their ordinary social life started forming the subject matter of both Tragedy and Comedy. Tragedy started evolving more based on the contemporary traditions, social orders & values; it focused more on self discovery rather than tragic mystery, fate or supernatural forces. Modern Tragedy also lays stress more on non-verbal expression, expression through subtexts and psychological analysis of one's own self. Unlike lofty language, of Tragedy of Shakespeare or Antiquity, the language used in Modern tragedy is just like everyday normal speaking language.
Henrik Ibsen is famously known as the Father of Modern Drama. A Doll's House (1879) by Henrik Ibsen, which depicts the breakdown of a middle-class marriage, is an example of a more contemporary tragedy. Henrik Ibsen incorporated in his plays the smug and narrow ambitiousness of his society. The hypocrisy of overbearing men and women replace, in their fashion, the higher powers of the old tragedy. Along with A Doll's House some of his other famous realist plays include: The Pillars of Society (1877), The Wild Duck, The Master Builder, and An Enemy of the People. Ibsen rose to prominence in large part because of his refusal to follow the rules of theatre at the time. His determination to forge his own style of drama coincided with a rising demand by the new intelligentsia for a serious “thinking” theatre, contrary to the frivolous entertainment on mainstream stages. James Joyce summed up the groundswell of praise for Ibsen when he wrote: “It may be questioned whether any man has held so firm an empire over the thinking world in modern times.”
The 20th century produced much serious and excellent drama. George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan (1923), & R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End (1928) was hugely popular in England. In America Eugene O'Neill was the first Tragedy writer. His most popular tragedy was Mourning Becomes Electra (1931). His another play Desire Under the Elms (1924) presents a harsh analysis of moral decadence through the sexual and avaricious intrigues of a American farmer family. Death of a Salesman (1949), & All My Sons (1947) by Arthur Miller gained great popularity. T.S Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral (a verse drama by T.S. Eliot that portrays the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, first performed in 1935), & The Family Reunion (1939) adapted the classical style of tragedy in modern subject and setting. A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948 and was hugely popular. John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) depicts a strict picture of contemporary maladjusted social values. It concerns a love triangle involving an intelligent and educated but disaffected young man of working-class origin, his upper-middle-class impassive wife, and her haughty best friend. Another important piece of Drama of Modern time is Harold Pinter's The Caretaker (1960). Although it was the sixth of his major works for stage and television, this psychological study of the confluence of power, allegiance, innocence, and corruption among two brothers and a tramp, became Pinter's first significant commercial success. Samuel Beckett in his play Waiting for Godot (1953) portrays the hopeless condition of mankind; it's also an absurdist play of two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting endlessly and in vain for the arrival of someone named Godot.
The modern tragedies have gone a long way from the classical tragedies as the Greeks have thought of. High tragedies in modern days are certainly impossible; however, modern tragedies have widened the scope of plots, setting by emphasizing the social values and surrounding of modern mankind and by depicting it as it is here and now.