Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

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How is Tess of the D'Urbervilles a modern tragedy?

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In a traditional tragedy, it is fate, sin, or a combination of the two that ushers in the tragic events. For example, in Oedipus Rex, the gods have decreed that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother, and much as he tries to avoid this fate, Oedipus cannot. The tragedy, in fact, provides the comfort of proving that the gods are in control. In the same vein, the plague that hits Thebes is not random but a direct punishment for Oedipus's sin—in Antigone, it will be for Creon's sin.

Likewise, in a play such as Hamlet or Macbeth, the tragic events result from evil, be it the corruption in Denmark or the entrance of supernatural witches into Scotland. The assumption is that there is a benign force in the universe (God) who is in charge and whose will is only temporarily thwarted. In the end, in all these plays, people get their just desserts and evildoing is punished, reaffirming that God or the gods are in heaven and all is right with the world.

Not so for Hardy. Hardy was a...

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