Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is tragedy?

Tragedy is a dramatic genre that explores human suffering in a grave and often emotional manner.

Guide to Literary Terms Study Tools

Take a quiz Ask a question Start an essay

Tragedy

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated May 25, 2023.

Tragedy is a genre of theater that addresses unfortunate occurrences and human suffering in a dignified and serious manner. In classical Greek drama, tragedies often involve a protagonist whose hubris led them to seek to become godlike, and in doing so, inciting the wrath of the gods, who then retaliate, often by killing them.

Classical Greek tragedies were designed to arouse fear and pity in the audience and, in doing so, to purge them of these emotions, a process referred to as catharsis. In literature, tragedy has evolved to refer to any literary work with a serious theme, tone, and catastrophic conclusion. 

Tragedy originated in ancient Greece from performances of epic poetry or ritualistic worship of Dionysus and thrived throughout the Roman Empire. Classical Greek theater fell out of favor during the Middle Ages in Europe but was revived during the Renaissance. Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, and William Shakespeare wrote tragedies during this time.

Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire is a 20th-century tragic drama. 

see: dramacomedytonethemecatharsishubris(the) absurd

Explore all literary terms.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Tone

Next

Verse