A Discourse on Tragedy
English 9 PIB 02.26.2000
What is a tragedy? In modern times, tragedies are very rare, but
centuries before, in the 1500s, tragedies were a common genre; and Romeo
and Juliet by William Shakespeare was a common tragedy. During the 1500s, a
great era of learning, creativity, and imagination swept over Europe. It
was known as the Enlightenment Era. William Shakespeare grew up in this
period of imagination, and through the freedom and romanticism of this era,
he became known as one of the greatest playwrights in history. His plays
were made up of comedies and tragedies. A tragedy was more important,
because it broke all the rules of a traditional play or story. It contained
a plot sequence that was an almost reciprocal to the traditional sequence,
but surprisingly, it worked. A tragedy is comprised of various
distinguishing aspects. In some cases, a tragedy has only foreshadowing,
rising action, a major conflict, and there is no real hope of a good
ending, as there is in many modern stories or novels. Romeo and Juliet is a
tragedy because it constitutes several of these distinguishing properties,
more specifically: a tragic flaw in one of the main characters, an
“opposite order” of the normal plot sequence, and a resolution that is
ambiguous until the final scenes. When this resolution is finally revealed,
it is the exact antithesis of what a resolution actually is.

Tragic flaws are often common in all stories, but they play a key
role in tragedies. A main character’s tragic flaw can set a story, play, or
novel in a “descending chain reaction”. As the main character falls, other
characters fall with him, and finally, the whole story collapses into
depression, resulting in a tragedy. This is definitely the case with Romeo
and Juliet. Both of the main characters, Romeo Montague, a love-struck
young man living in Verona, Italy, and Juliet Capulet, a 14 year old girl
also living in Verona, have a common tragic flaw. The flaw is revealed
through a certain type of indrectness; their actions clearly hint at a flaw
in their personalities. William Shakespeare created innocent characters in
Romeo and Juliet. Both are in love with each other, but since their
families were feuding with each other, fate did not want them to be
together. However, both Romeo and Juliet rushed to get their marriage
straightened out. When Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, was killed, he took no
time getting revenge. And when Juliet’s nurse came back to tell her of the
news with Romeo, Juliet seemed the least bit worried about what the nurse
went through to get the news; she was only worried about herself. She was
impatient and hasty. That was the tragic flaw. Juliet and Romeo were hasty
in their decisions and actions; they didn’t stop to consider the
consequences of the marriage, or what would happen if Romeo had killed
Tybalt (Mercutio’s killer), or if Juliet had taken the potion that set the
final, dreadful scene into motion.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

A normal plot sequence goes as follows: exposition – narrative hook –
rising action – climax – falling action – resolution. However, in a
tragedy, the normal plot sequence is cut in certain places and
reconfigured. The exposition would lead into the narrative hook, which
would lead to the rising action as normal. This is seen as characterization
of Romeo develops; we learn about his background and how he was dumped by
Rosaline, how he went to the Capulet ball, how he meets Juliet, and how
Juliet finds out that he is a Montague, a fueding family of her family, the
Capulets. However, the rising action would suddenly become a sort of
gradual climax, where the reader’s interest fluctuates through dramatic
irony. Romeo and Juliet become involved with their love, and the tragic
flaw of hastiness and impatience begins to emerge as they get married.

Paris proposes to marry the already-married Juliet on a Thursday, and
dramatic irony makes its appearance. The reader knows that certain scenes
such as the marriage between Romeo and Juliet are happening in the
background, but it interests the reader that characters in the story such
as Paris or Capulet do not know this. The climax now becomes the turning
point of the story, rather than the high point of the reader’s interest. In
some cases, it can be, but in tragedies, it is mostly where the story takes
a turn for the worse, and the outcomes can almost be predicted. This
turning point is when Juliet drinks the potion. It is not exactly the
climax, because the reader’s interest is focused on the future. Questions
break loose within the reader’s mind: What will happen next? What will be
the outcome of this event? There is still more rising action to follow the
climax – it doesn’t just proceed into the falling action phase of a normal
plot sequence. If the normal plot sequence were graphed, it would look
somewhat like a looping ‘n’ or parabola, where the climax would be the tip
of the ‘n’. In a tragedy, however, the graph would be much bigger, due to
the long rising action. In fact, the graph would overlap itself in some
places, because the narrative hook is not always introduced suddenly. It is
gradually revealed, until it finally becomes a case of dramatic irony.

Therefore, it is determined that in a tragedy, the rising action
constitutes much of the revealing of the conflict. Romeo and Juliet shows
this attribute of rising action. Throughout the rising action, Romeo and
Juliet face further sub-conflicts. Paris decides to marry Juliet earlier
than usual, Romeo kills Tybalt, and Friar Lawrence’s message doesn’t reach
Romeo in time. As the graph continues to rise, there would be a sudden,
brief moment, near the ending, which includes most of the action, and the
graph would suddenly drop down toward the resolution, which, in the case of
Romeo and Juliet, is after Romeo, Juliet, and Paris are dead; it is when
Friar Lawrence, Balthasar, and the Page summarize all the events that
happened in the story so far. The graph would look somewhat like: /|.

This almost looks like a very distorted ‘n’.

A resolution is probably one of the most important parts of a story,
play, or novel, according to the reader. The reader usually wants a
summarization or a nice twist to end it all up. In a normal story, the
resolution is calm, relaxed, and reverberates the plot. In some cases,
there might be sudden twists to the story, but the twist to the plot
sequence is sudden and quick. In a tragedy, the resolution is very unique.

Instead of coming after the falling action, it comes directly after the
rising action, which means that when a tragedy’s ending is truly tragic, it
is of no surprise. Through tragic flaws and the horribly long rising
action, the reader surely knows that the story, novel, or play he or she is
reading is a tragedy, long before the actual ‘tragedy’ scene occurs, which
is usually in the ‘resolution’. However, you can never tell. A knowledge of
the type of story a person is reading could possibly not come until the
very end. It all depends on the reader’s style of reading. Romeo and
Juliet contains exactly this format. Right after Friar Lawrence realizes
that his letter was not delivered, the scene changes to the graveyard,
where Romeo fights and kills Paris, and kills himself in Juliet’s tomb. The
resolution was somewhat quick, but for many, it was not exactly a ‘twist’,
because the plot sequence in the story was such that the sad ending was
easily predicted.

Through all the tragic flaws, the distorted plot sequence, and the
inverted resolution, it is clear that Romeo and Juliet is exactly what it
was meant to be – a tragedy. In some cases, a person can not distinguish a
tragedy from a normal story but in those cases, the person needs to look
beyond traditional boundaries and into the story itself. It is at this
point when they truly understand the story, and in turn, understanding one
of the small parts that come with understanding a story – the genre, which
in Romeo and Juliet, is a tragedy. The importance of understanding
tragedies does not just mean that you can identify other tragedies better;
it can also mean that you can understand many other types of genres, such
as comedies – another one of Shakespeare’s talents. Romeo and Juliet is a
perfect example of tragedy, irony, and playwrighting. It may or may not
have been one of Shakespeare’s goals to do all this, but he did want to
accomplish one aspect of the story – he wanted it to become a great play.

That goal was clearly accomplished.

Author