On what grounds is tradition linked to tragedy? Discuss in the light of Raymond William’s “Modern Tragedy”?

Raymond William’s “Modern Tragedy”

The tragedy is being written and performed since the Greeks but its preference has not changed so far. It is as famous today as it was among Romans and Greeks. Raymond William is one of those critics, who like the Marxist approach. Instead of refinement in tragedy William wants its renewal. In his essay “Tragedy and Tradition”, he establishes a close connection between tradition and tragedy. The word “Tragedy” is not new to us. Greeks had already defined the meaning of tragedy though only eight to ten tragedies of Greeks survived. In every era, tragedy was modified but Raymond wants a proper modification in it. He stated that tragedy was not modified nor renewed but continued until tradition, from where it was diminished. He feels that the concept of tragedy is still traditional. He wants more reformation in it. In order to see a link between tradition and tragedy, some relevant lines from his essay are reproduced as under:-

“it is question, rather, of realizing that a tradition is not the past; a selection and evaluation of ancestors,  rather a neutral record……..To examine the tragic tradition……it is to see these works and ideas in their immediate contexts as well as in their historical continuity and to examine their place and function in relation to other works and ideas, and to the variety of actual experience.”

Raymond Williams – Tragedy and Tradition

He first sheds light on the tragedy of the classical period. In this era, the tragic hero was not presented in isolation; instead, he was the representative of his family and class. Raymond thinks that even Aristotle could not define the tragic hero in isolation. There was a strong link between the gods and the character of the tragedy. Moreover, there were a lot of myths and beliefs in the Greeks, which were differentiated on the basis of logic, thoughts and emotions. Greek tragedy was the tragedy of the chorus and subsequently, when the chorus was removed, the real purpose of the tragedy also faded. Raymond believes that in Greek tragedy whole system was involved instead of the hero only.

Then comes the Medieval period, in which there was very less tragedy and if there was any, it was in narrative form.  The tragedy was dependent on fate and chances, therefore, the idea of the tragedy became worldly. William writes:-

“there might be particular sins, which led to the falls, and at times these would be examined, in the light of doctrine as the doctrine of fortune as the ministering event of providence”

Raymond Williams – Tragedy and Tradition

It was the period of feudalism, therefore, changes as per desires were made in tragedy but no change was permanent. The tragedy was in narrative form and there was very little or no action in this form of tragedy, therefore, it became a story rather than a tragedy due to lack of action. The tradition of nobility was still being continued.

Thereafter, the renaissance period was the most important period with regard to drama and tragedies. Tragedy, in that period, was changed a lot but Raymond does not feel any vital change in it. He thinks that tragedy was metaphysical at the time of the Renaissance. It was the fall of a noble man and a very less common man was presented in those tragedies. In this way, it was the continuity of the traditional concept of tragedy because of the nobility of the tragic character. Raymond asserts that though changes were made in this period even then tragedy remains conventional as well as traditional.

The neo-Classical era was different from the renaissance. A little improvement was not enough to satisfy Raymond William. Element of character’s nobility was continued. Aristotle’s hamartia was also emphasised. Moreover, the hero was presented in isolation and the reversal of fortune was replaced with the hero’s reversal of fortune but the method and concept remained traditional.

After the neo-classic period, Shakespearean tragedy has significant value. Shakespeare drifted the tragedy and tried to break the traditional continuity. Lessing is of the view that Shakespeare followed the Greeks in writing tragedies but William did not agree with Lessing in this regard. He thought that Shakespeare did not inherit the Greeks but he had given a new concept of tragedy. William is of the view that Lessing failed to understand the difference between Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy as he mixed both. After the neo-classic period, every tragedy was secular, which brings and satisfied the term “poetic justice”. Greek tragedies were the tragedies of beliefs and myths but after the neo-classic period, tragedies became moral as well as secular. A new concept was developed and people started believing that if there was happiness then it was because of good deeds and if there were sufferings these were due to evil, which lay within the character and the gods have no concern whatsoever.

Hegel, the german philosopher, broke the tradition of tragedy but poetic justice remained the same. The tradition was removed from tragedy and a new thing was introduced. Now, external forces were not responsible for the sufferings of the tragic characters. Thus, in his eyes, the tragedy was based on tragic character instead of the whole system. Tragedies were no more tragedies but can simply be regarded as plays or dramas. Hegel’s theory is interpreted as the Marxist approach by Raymond William.

Raymond William writes that tragedy has a strong connection with tradition. Although, as per requirements, small changes were being made to it yet the basic concept of the tragedy remained traditional. In traditional tragedies, the rank of the tragic character counted. Traditionally, an incident was not tragic until its impact was huge. William does not think so. According to him, these traditions must be changed and the common man should also be sketched as a tragic character. He thinks that any small incident can be tragic but no writer tried to replace the traditional concept with his own.

The tradition was interlinked with tragedy and instead of delinking tragedy from tradition, writers followed the convention and wrote tragedies as per traditional requirements. Even Shakespeare followed the tradition, however, in later tragedies he made improvements to it.

In view of the foregoing discussion, it can be said that Raymond William thinks that tradition is strongly connected to tragedy to the extent of the nobility of character, illustration of huge disasters in tragedies, tragedy’s impact on the whole system instead of the hero only, isolation of hero, myths and religious dogmas.