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A Writer On Writing: Tragedy

Sally Jenkins spend a far-from-tragic day at a collunity lecture on tragedy.

My daughter’s school was offering a ‘community’ lecture on Tragedy by Professor David Robert of the English department at Birmingham City University. http://www.bcu.ac.uk/ I haven’t studied English Literature since my O’ level in 1979 (Julius Caesar, Lord of the Flies anf Keats’ poetry – you never forget those books do you!) so I thought it was about time to broaden my horizons.

Wikipedia tells us that tragedy is ‘a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy his definition seems to make anyone that has ever enjoyed Hamlet or Macbeth heartless and cruel! But David explained that watching a tragedy is a catharsis because we see someone in a worse situation than ourselves. The hero who suffers a tragic end can be seen as scapegoat. His demise makes us feel good because we didn’t suffer such a terrible end – he does the suffering for the rest of us.

David took us on a whistle-stop tour of famous tragedies through the ages from ‘Oedipus Rex’ to ‘Death of a Salesman’. Then he gave a mention to the current popularity of disaster movies such as ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, which can also be seen as tragedies.

Tragedies are mostly written by men and this could be because there is a more certain self-destruct pessimism about the world within the male psyche (and they call us the moody ones!).

So where is all this taking us in the context of our writing? Well, I’m not sure really unless you’re a playwright since tragedies seem to be generally written for performance rather than as a narrative. I had hoped that learning about the greats of English Literature might inform my own writing but I can’t see People’s Friend or My Weekly falling over themselves to buy a tragedy!

But it wasn’t a waste of time because it broadened my horizons and I got a certificate of attendance!

By the way if there are any English scholars out there do correct me if I’ve got anything wrong here.


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