I read Sophocles Antigone for graduate Humanities class. It is an essential reading to understand Greek Tragedy. It is also a foundation stone of literature in studying Western Civilization.
Antigone, daughter of Oedipus in 3-cycle play, faces capital punishment for burying her brother who rebelled against Thebes. Obeying instincts of loyalty of love and the divine law, she defies Creon, the King and her uncle. Creon says laws of states outweigh all other laws, and family loyalty, when he finally relents it's too late.
Over the centuries there has been a great deal made about the conflicts played out in the play, law of state vs. law of goods, personal vs. state duties. Loves knowledge vs. state knowledge. Greek understanding of tragedy- Aristotle lays down understanding of Greek tragedy. He based it on Sophocles. Tragedy- most important thing for tragedy is plot, it is all essential. Tragedy defined as- is imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude in language embellished with incidents arousing pity and fear ant to the audience it accomplishes catharsis of such emotions. Every tragedy must have six parts that determine its quality. 1. plot 2. character 3. diction 4. fault 5. spectacle and 6. melody.
According to Aristotle, tragedy is higher and more philosophical than history or poetry; it is one of the highest expressive forms because it dramatizes what may happen. History is a narrative that tells you what has happened tragedy shows what is possible. History deals with particulars, tragedy deals with the universal. Tragedy creates a cause and effect chain and shows how the world operates. It frames human experience in universal discourse, tragedy is central in this effort. Tragedy arouses pity and fear in audience because we can envision ourselves caught in this cause and effect chain. Plot most important feature, the arrangement of incidents, the way incidents, and action is structured. Tragedies outcome depends on the outcome of these cause and effect changes not on being character driven. Plot must be whole, beginning middle and end. Beginning must have a motivation that starts the cause and effect chain of events must be a center or climax that is caused by earlier incidents. There must be an end some kind of closure caused by earlier events in tragedy. This is all part of the complication of the tragedy all must be connected. You can't have a dues ex machnia in a superior tragedy.
In tragedy, the hero or heroine walks knowingly towards the fate that is written and can't be changed. Unity of action plot must be structurally self-contained, each action leading invariably to the next without outside intervention. The worst kinds of plots are episodic, like a Jerry Seinfeld sitcom, can't be something about nothing, must have unity of action. Magnitude, quantatively meaning length, and quality of action, it must be serious. Must be of universal significance, depth, and richness. Character- most important feature is the fatal flaw. Motivations of characters are important but character is there to support the plot. Character must be a prosperous renowned personage. Change of fortune from good to bad will really matter and bring fear and pity to the audience. In ideal tragedy, the hero will mistakenly bring about his own downfall. Because they make a mistake, because knowledge of our selves is always partial, we can't have complete knowledge of ourselves. Hall quotes Descartes in the article, "The limited error prone perspective of the individual. Subject is always imperfect and human and these limitations include our ability to know in any reliable way ourselves." The fact that we as subjects, as agents can never fully know ourselves means that we are always prone to error, error is the essence of the tragic hero, tragedy is the essential drama of human subjectivity.
What is Hegel's understanding of concept of tragedy? He revises Aristotelian principals and logic. Immensely influential German philosopher, he writes about; tragedy in the Aesthete 1820-29, he proposes, "the suffering of the tragic hero are merely the means of reconciling the opposing moral clients." According to Hegel's account of Greek tragedy, the conflict isn't between good and evil, but between competing goods, all is good. Between two entirely ethical worlds that clash and can't come together. Both characters have an ethical vision or belief that they have to follow it is there one-sidedness of their vision that clashes with the one-sidedness of the other character. Both sides of contradiction are justified. Conflict of irreconcilable justifiable ethical worlds, ethical visions. Just as his dialectic must lead to an ultimate synthesis, so to must tragedy lead to a synthesis. This is dramatized in the death of the tragic actor, which becomes the synthesis. Hegel says; "the characters are too good to live." They are too good to live in this world. What is interesting is that Hegel so wants to correct moral imbalances his emphasis is on moral balances.
The better translations are Paul Roche, and Robert Fagles.
Greek tragedy is great reading for people interested in aesthetics, history, psychology, and philosophy.