Tragedy! Doin’ It Greek Style.

21 Mar

The Steampunk Opera is heavily immersed in the tragedy genre, sometimes embracing it and sometimes subverting it, but as my writing and composition of it has progressed i’ve found myself exploring the long, great theatrical tradition.

Tragedy is not simply a story with an unhappy ending. It is epically unhappy. Absolute reversal of fortune, death of everyone involved…

spiderman turn off the dark

Yeah, like that. You know, epic disaster.

So Tragedy, which is quite specific in it’s form and intentions, comes to us from the Greeks, whose concept of it we’ll be touching upon today.

It started as worship ceremony for the god Dionysius, and involved a ritual choral hymn. Eventually a ritual enactment was added tot he ceremony, and finally the enactment became a play as we know it. The idea of the Greek chorus, present throughout the play, which in most standard plays is long gone, is actually the primary component from which all theater arises.

"Words and music, Wordman, words and music. They need each other."

In the Greek concept of tragedy, the main character must be Heroic. He cannot be some shmuck, but must instead be a man or woman of greatness. Usually their end is precipitated by some whim of either fate or the gods. This whim puts the Hero into a crisis in which some decision must be made. Often, the Hero will follow his or her principles and in doing what they believe to be right (usually mistaken), or make a key decision which puts a domino chain in motion that ends with their utter downfall and usually a whole bunch of death.

The Hero need not die, although if they do, it is from this concept that we originally get the term “tragic death”. (which nowadays simply means an unfortunate death,  but this is not the original case. Tragedy in the classical sense is not merely unfortunate.) Sometimes they may come out the other end alive (most likely unlike everyone they know) with  greater wisdom. (Remember Oedipus? Surely you read that in high school. Classic tragedy.) The idea is Wisdom through Punishment by the Gods. Or, wisdom through tragedy, a concept we all understand today.

Now, one more element is that there is a flaw in the Hero/ine and it is through this flaw that the mistake is made with which they conspire to bring about their own ruin. Often this is pride and arrogance or hubris, and they disobey a warning or wish of the gods. And Greek gods do not give a rat’s ass about you.  The punishment is usually inTENSE.

This is NOT a karmic chain, whereby an action leads to an equal reaction. The outcome is insanely more awful then the offense warranted. It is, ipso facto, Tragic.

So, Tragedy is a mixture between the powers outside the Protagonists’ influence and a key mistake made arising from a key flaw within them.  Boom. Let the bloodbath begin.

Let’s take a quick (more coherent) look at another one of these stories, shall we?


Creon is the king of Thebes. He has just become king through a civil war.

Two brothers fought in this civil war, one for the new king Creon and one against. Both died.

Creon decrees the brother who fought with him to be buried properly, adn the one who fought against him to be left rotting on the ground where he fell, which is the ultimate insult, and an act against the official policy of the gods (BING BING BING BING BING)

The fallen brothers have 2 sisters, one of whom is name Antigone, the title of the play. The sister argue over whether to bury their brother’s body anyway. Antigone wishes to bury her brother despite the King’s edict, and despite her sister’s pleas, does it.

She is found out.The King sentences her to be entombed alive. His son Haemon, who is actually in love with Antigone, pleas for her to be spared but to no avail.

So…. what happens? Well, everyone except the King dies. One of Greek theater’s most awesome recurring motifs is the blind prophet. In comes the blind prophet and tells King Creon he’s gonna suffer bad if the body isn’t properly taken care of. The Greek chorus pleads with the King to do it, and shaken, he agrees. But…. too little too late.

Antigone hangs herself rather than be entombed. In solidarity with his love Antigone,the  King’s son stabs and kills himself. Upon seeing the dead son, his mother, the Queen kills HERself, cursing King Creon with her last breath. The King has lost his family and is a broken wreck.

The end.

Here is an excerpt from a modern interpretation of the greek theatrical version. I think we can assume the “cords” are meant to represent how they are puppets of the gods, the fates, or even the whims of the King.

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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