Critically assess Raymond William’s essay on “Tragedy and Contemporary Ideas”.

  • January 2, 2022
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Tragedy has been discussed, refined and  renewed throughout the ages. Greeks were well aware with the fact that tragic incidents are part and parcel of everyone’s life but their concept about tragedy are not accepted by Raymond William. Raymond William with the purpose of rejecting the previous concept of tragedy has written essay “Tragedy and Contemporary Ideas”. He first describes the contemporary ideas related to tragedy and then one by one rejects them with strong arguments. He also gives examples in this regard. According to him, time is changing and so as we, therefore, tragedy should also be changed. He rejects every former concept about tragedy and proves that tragedy should be refined as per modern desires. His style is very interesting and confidence inspiring as subtle arguments can be found in his essay with regard to tragedy.

First of all Raymond William denied the concept that human nature is unchangeable. He says, if it is unchangeable, then tragedy must not be changed but that is not the case. He takes  is the law of nature” as granted and states that tragedy should also be changed. There is a lot of difference between the past and present. The main difference is in thinking and perceiving things. He writes with the mind of a common man. How a common man perceives tragedy is basic purpose of this essay. This essay can be divided into four major points: order and accident, destruction of the hero, irreparable action and emphasis of evil.

The conventional tragedy does not focus on ordinary real life accidents. In all the tragedies, written by former writers, incidents are not tragic at all. They become tragic because of a certain response. Raymond William does not agree with it. He says that we cannot differentiate between response and event. If an event has no response than it does not mean that it is not tragic. Ignoring or becoming silence on a point is also a response. In his views, every incident can be tragic for someone. If it is not tragic for a person then it does not mean that it is not tragic for anyone. A common man’s death may not be tragic for a person passing nearby but it is definitely tragic for his near and dear ones. The world has been changed and so as the tragedy. Now are not the days that onlyhuge accident is tragic but an ordinary unexpected incident can also be tragic for someone. In simple words, any tragic incident like road accident, a disaster, a burned family or a broken heart, says William, can be tragic.

Raymond William also focuses on ranks. He says that in modern world, ranks have no value at all. What values is the life of a person. For bourgeois society, everyone has become entity and thus has his own importance, therefore, whether a prince dies or a common man expires, both events are mournful and equally tragic. He denies that the death of a king is more tragic than a common man.Greeks presented kings as their tragic heroes for the purpose of excitement of pity and fear but in modern world, every incident can be tragic in some way or the other.

Order and disorder has also been discussed by Raymond William. He says that for every disorder there is an order and every disorder can be corrected with order. Every society has its own order depends on views of that society. He also rejects the concept that in modern period, there is no belief thus no tragedy is possible. Examples of Elizabethan and Jacobean period are in front of us, which were full of tensions but tragedies, written in those period were successful.

Raymond William also spreadslight on destruction of the hero. He says that at the end of tragedy we see destruction and annihilation of the tragic character. This interpretation of tragedy is accepted by Raymond William but he rejects a point related to it. He says that while witnessing a tragedy, we forget to experience every single incident related to it because we confine ourselves to the hero only. What happens to the hero is our main concern but what is happening inthe surroundings, we forget it. Modern tragedy is different in this context. In old tragedies, like Oedipus Rex, people’s concern was with the hero. They focus on the point that what is happening to the hero but in modern world, spectators see what is happening through the hero. Hence, we should experience the tragedy in all context. He agrees that it is not the duty of writer to give solutions that what should the tragic character do but raise questions and leave them unanswered to be answered by the spectators.

Death is not necessary in the tragedy nor does it a tragic incident so far as the real meanings of tragedy are concerned.  Death is certain and everyone knows it, therefore, death of tragic character at the end is not necessarily justified. A tragedy must end with an irreparable loss. Raymond William does not consider death as irreparable loss. “Oedipus Rex”, for example at the end of the play does not commit suicide but becomes blind. This is what Raymond William wants to say; death can be tragic but it is not the case with every play to be ended in death of the hero. “Dr. Faustus” for instance, ends with death but the death of Dr. Faustus is not his loss. Eternal hell, in the afterlife, is his loss. Hence, a tragedy can be finished with any loss, which is irreparable.

The classical presentation of evil in tragedies has also been rejected by Raymond William. In classic tragedies apparent evil was presented but in modern tragedies, the definition of evil has been changed. Nowadays, evil that is within humans is being presented and Raymond William is happy with it. For example, in “Othello” jealousy is presented, in “Dr. Faustus” greed and lust has been shown and these are best tragedies for the modern world. Furthermore, Raymond William thinks that good and evil is not certain and absolute. Whether we are good or bad/evil, it depends on situation. Sometimes evil ways are acceptable by a person under heavy pressure.

Indeed, Raymond William has given new definition to tragedy but some questionsraise in our minds, being students of literature. For instance,Aristotle says that there is more excitement of pity and fear while watching the sufferings of a noble person than a common man. It is always  true. The tragedy with a person having noble class will remain a topic of discussion for years, whereas the death of a common man is not necessarily a tragedy for everyone. Furthermore, human-habits may have been changed but emotions and feelings are not changed and will remain same until the day of judgment. Tragedy can be successful, even today, if it is written while following the contemporary ideas because its purpose is same i.e. Catharsis of pity and fear, however, remaining points of Raymond Williams are accurate and they have force.Destruction in form of death is not necessary.Irreparable loss and actions can fulfil the purpose of a tragedy  lastly, evil can be emphasized. With these observations, Raymond William’s views about tragedy as discussed in “Tragedy and Contemporary Ideas” are partially accepted.

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