The Elements of the Tragedy Genre

Theatre historically consisted of two styles -- comedy and tragedy. The elements of tragedy stem from Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedy there are several components that make up the dramatic work. Singers and actors combine with dance and theatrics to create a complete dramatic work that combine the arts. Historically, audience members would surround the stage and sit on pillows to watch the tragedy unfold.


According to Aristotle, tragedy is the “imitation of an action” in line with “the law of probability or necessity.” He further indicates that a tragedy acts out a situation rather than through narration. In a comedy, everything works out, and contrary to the term, the action does not have to be humorous to qualify as comedy. A tragedy involves the destruction of a powerful figure who is essentially a good man whom the audience empathizes with who makes a decision, usually involving hubris, that leads to his downfall.


The prologue of the tragedy sets the stage for the entire play. This aspect of the tragedy does not contain any singing. Rather, it is a monologue (meaning it is spoken by just one character). The setting of the mood for the play and some foreshadowing and history appear in the prologue. Generally, this is not a very long portion of the tragedy.


The parados is a segue between the prologue and the first episode. It consists of the chorus singing in a marching rhythm and actors transitioning from the side of the stage to join with the orchestra. The orchestra in Greek tragedy does not have the same meaning as it has today. In ancient Greece an orchestra was a circular area where the actors performed the play. After the chorus and actors have entered the stage or arena, they were situated on either side, the right and the left, of the orchestra, in between the audience and the stage.

Episodes and Stasimons

The episode occurs after the parados. This section of the tragedy contains another monologue or dialogue between actors. Occasionally, songs are interspersed throughout the episodes. After the episode, there is a brief stasimon in which the chorus sings a song continuously to completion without any speaking. The chorus also dances during the stasimon. A tragedy consists of a first, second and third set of episodes and stasimons before finally ending with the exodus.


The exodus is similar to an episode as it contains a combination of song, monologues, or dialogues. However, the exodus finalizes the play and resolves the tragedy that has occurred. Literally translated as "exit scene," the exodus always concludes the tragedy. Some tragedies will end with a moral message while others may give a summary or glimpse of the future ramifications of the events that took place in the play.


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