In this article, we will examine tragedy, using our step by step method. We will divide the concept into smaller parts and explore its definition, features, themes, and examples.


Tragedy finds its origins in the Greek word τραγῳδία (tragōidia). It defines a dramatic genre that presents profound and often catastrophic misfortunes in the lives of its protagonists. Tragedies delve into human suffering and the complexities of existence, offering a stark contrast to epic poetry, in which heroes emerge victorious and personify virtues.

Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The protagonist's unavoidable decline is frequently accelerated by a flaw in their character, unfavourable external circumstances, or a tragic combination of both. It is the key element of this genre.


-Flaw: The central character often possesses a weakness referred to as a "tragic flaw" or "hamartia." This element leads to their downfall.This flaw can manifest as a moral failing, excessive pride (hubris), or a simple mistake.

-Catharsis: Tragedies seek to evoke powerful emotions in the audience, which frequently results in catharsis—emotional purging. Viewers or readers undergo a powerful emotional experience by connecting with the characters' struggles and suffering.

-Unhappy Endings: Unlike epics that end on a triumphant note, tragedies end on an unhappy note. The audience is emotionally affected by the main character's end or suffering, making them think on the human experience.


-Fate and Free Will: The conflict between fate and free choice is examined. Characters fight against fate to change the course of their lives.

-Dilemmas and ethical issues: Characters struggle with decisions that can have heavy consequences.

-Hubris: (Or excessive pride) Characters' arrogance or pride can lead to their final downfall.


Hamlet by William Shakespeare: It is a timeless tragedy where the eponymous character's internal conflict, indecision, and quest for vengeance lead to a series of tragic events, including the death of several key characters.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare: The titular character's ambition and moral descent into murder and tyranny exemplify the tragic hero's path to destruction.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller: Willy Loman's futile pursuit of the American Dream and his ultimate downfall serve as a poignant modern example of the tragedy of a common man.

Vocabulary list

Tragedy: A dramatic genre that portrays profound misfortunes and suffering in the lives of its characters.

Protagonist: The main character in a story, often experiencing the central conflicts.

Catastrophic: Involving severe and widespread destruction or disaster.

Hamartia: The tragic flaw in a character's personality or actions that leads to their downfall.

Hubris: Excessive pride or arrogance, often leading to a character's tragic downfall.

Catharsis: The emotional purging or release experienced by the audience when witnessing a tragedy.

Ethical Dilemmas: Situations involving difficult choices with moral implications, often explored in tragedies.

Unhappy Endings: Concluding a story on a somber note, where the main character may experience suffering or tragedy.

Fate: The predetermined course of events, often in opposition to free will.

Free Will: The ability of characters to make choices and decisions independently.

Internal Conflict: Struggles that occur within a character's mind or emotions, as exemplified in "Hamlet."

Quest for Vengeance: The pursuit of revenge, a key theme in "Hamlet."

Triumphant: Experiencing victory and success.

LnT recommends: 

LnT expanding your understanding of tragedy by watching the following Ted Ed video

LnT exploring the 'Genres' section, which offers multiple guides for easily identifying different literary genres

LnT visiting the page 'Revenge Tragedy'

LnT visiting the page dedicated to the presentation of Hamlet.