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

  • November 20, 2021
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Tragedy is being written and performedsince Greeks but its taste has not been changed so far. It is as famous today as it was among Romansand Greeks. Raymond William is one of the those critics, who like Marxist’s approach. Instead of refinement in tragedy William wants its renewal. In his essay “Tragedy and Tradition”, he establishes a close connection between the tradition and tragedy. The word “Tragedy” is not new for us. Greeks had already defined the meaning of tragedy though only eight to ten tragedies of Greeks were 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 it was removed. He feels that the concept of tragedy is still traditional. He wants more reformation in it. In order to see 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.”

He first spread light on tragedy of 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 evenAristotle could not define the tragic hero in isolation. There was a strong link between the gods and the character of tragedy. Moreover, there were a lot of myths and beliefs in Greeks, which were differentiated on the basis of logic, thoughts and emotions. Greek tragedy was the tragedy of chorus and subsequently when the chorus was removed, real taste of tragedy was also changed. Raymond believes that in Greek tragedy whole system was involved instead of hero only.

Then comes the Medieval period, in which there was very less tragedy and if there was any, it was in narrative form.  Tragedy was dependent on fate and chances, therefore, the idea of 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”

It was the period of feudalism, therefore, changes as per desires, were made in tragedy but no permanent change was made. 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, 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 renaissance. It was the fall of a noble man and very less common man was presented in those tragedies. In this way, it was the continuity of traditional concept of tragedy because of the nobility of tragic character. Raymond asserts that though changes were made in this period even then tragedy remains conventional as well as traditional.

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

After neo-classic period, Shakespearean tragedy has significant value. Shakespeare drifted the tragedy and tried to broke the traditional continuity. Lessing is of the view that Shakespeare followed Greeks in writing tragedies but William was not agree with Lessing in this regard. He through that Shakespeare did not inheritGreeks 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 these tragedies. After 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 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 laid within the character.

Hegel, the germen philosopher, broke the tradition of tragedy but poetic justice remained the same. Here tradition was removed from tragedy and a new thing was introduced. Now, external forces were not responsible for the sufferings of tragic character. Thus, in his eyes, the tragedy was based on tragic character instead of whole system. Tragedies were no more tragedies but can simply be regarded as plays or dramas. Hegel’s theory is interpreted as 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 in it but the basic concept of tragedy remained traditional. In traditional tragedies, rank of the tragic character mattered. 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 common man should also be sketched as tragic character. He thinks that any small incident can be tragic but no writer tried to replace the traditional concept with his own. 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 in 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 nobility of character, illustration of huge disaster in tragedies, tragedy’s impact on whole system instead of hero only, isolation of hero, myths and religious dogmas.

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