The classic Tarot card Wheel Of Fortune singlehandedly sums ups the entire Medieval concept of tragedy.
After the fall of Rome, theater fell into lean times. The Church disapproved of it, and although it was performed in street stages, inns and knight’s halls, the stages were almost always temporary structures, easily taken down after each performance, and with no real funding or support it existed in sparsity until the Renaissance.
Thus Tragedy during the Middle Ages is typically more a literary form, a prose or poetic narrative instead of a performed drama. However it still must be mentioned in regards to theater, since these medieval tragedies heavily influenced Shakespeare other Renaissance playwrights.
So, back to our little card.
Medieval Tragedy stressed the downfall or a great or high figure or importance by the whim of fate, the impersonal turning of a Wheel Of Fortune. I cannot stress enough that the concept of Tragedy still, at this point, centers around a figure of importance or greatness in order to be true Tragedy. Since Tragedy is the tale of someone’s fall of fortune (and comedy the tale of someone’s rise in fortune, at least classically speaking) only a great or important person would have the status and wealth in which to tell a good tragedy.
Greek Tragedy relied in part on an individual’s action, or fatal choice to prompt the inevitable bloodbath of personal ruin, but Medieval tragedy discarded this and placed the cause well out of personal control.
Based on the turning of the Wheel by Lady Fortune a pauper can be King and a King a pauper.
So, in a society obsessed with Gd, where is Gd in this picture? The great medieval philosopher Boethius explains Tragedy as being Fortune’s Wheel which is both inevitable and providential. Even the most coincidental of events is actually part of God’s plan. Thus the character of the individual is no more important in deciding fate than the influence of the stars, since both are agents of God’s will.
I have little personally to comment about medieval Tragedy. My various uses of Tragedy are often in response to Greek, Renaissance, or Modern Tragedy models.The Medieval is just something out of my commentary zone. Even to oppose. I oppose or homage the other forms, and i certainly like the Wheel of fate idea, but without any personal input by any protagonist on their outcome, it is not a story that i as a storyteller can work with much. Perhaps it’s being such a firm product of 20/21 century Western culture which is obsessed with the individual and over enthralled with the idea of personal freedom, self sustenance and indeed the self being the center of each individual universe.
However, what everyone still enjoys is the same idea used as comedy. Culturally, we continue to use this concept in our comedies. You know, guy going about his day when a series of absolutely insane whims of chance occur to him, one after the another, each building on the last to ever increasing levels of misfortune and our hilarity.
One of my favorite examples of this is the old 80s movie After Hours. It’s a relic nowadays, but it’s awesome nonetheless. The interesting thing about it though is this: we all consider it to be a comedy. It’s pretty funny in a very dark humor sort of way. over the course of a single night this guy gets progressively more screwed as more and more random insanity happens to him while trying to just go home. What’s interesting is that barring his stature (he’s just some shmoe) this movie is in fact a perfect example of medieval Tragedy. Although we find it funny, his state is worse at the end of the film than at the beginning (not by much ultimately, but let’s not nitpick) and by definition that is tragedy instead of comedy. The events that occur to him are all malicious chance. Actually they’re all malicious chance of such ingenuity that one can almost see an irate Gd behind them.
Okay. Let’s rope in the digressions and end this puppy. Two great tragedy writers would include the English Chaucer and the Italian Boccaccio. Boccaccio proceed Chaucer and was indeed a major influence on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Just as the Tales are a series of humorous or tragic stories told by a group of strangers while on a long pilgrimage, c work The Decameron is a series of tales told by a group of people holed up in a villa outside Florence attempting to wait out the Plague. There’s lots of sex, love, zany shenanigans, and brutal and cruel whims of fate which reverse people’s fortunes in the blink of an eye. Just like your week.