Tragedy in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and 'The Duchess of Malfi'

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  • Tragedy
    • Elements of tragedy
      • Established in Aristotle’s Poetics (4th Century BC)
      • Drama- character, plot, (poetic) language, theme, spectacle and music.
      • Unities- time (in 24 hours), place (single setting throughout) and action (centre around main characters with no sub-plots and a satisfying ending).
      • Dramatic Structure- only events necessary to the plot take place and move the protagonist naturally to their downfall/death.
      • Mimetic function imitates reality (naturalism and realism)
      • Hero of a high status, whose downfall arrises from an error of judgement, hubris (excessive pride) or a tragic flaw (hamartia)
      • The downfall of the protagonist must arouse pity and fear
      • The Antagonist allows the hero to reach a point go self realisation.
      • Catharsis- purgation/cleansing of negative emotions in the audience around the restoration of order and peace
      • Protagonist’s downfall must lead to order after chaos
      • Classical tragedy is concerned with the role of fate (the Gods) in the hero’s downfall
        • Friedrich Nietzsche (The Birth of Tragedy, 1871) said that ‘Tragedy coaxes order out of chaos to create art’. He said that the origins of tragedy symbolically represented in the confrontation of Apollo (Greek god of light and healing) and Dionysus (Greek god of pleasure, madness, instinct and ecstasy).
      • Shakespeare’s tragedy draws upon the classical model but is much more concerned with the role of character and the individual struggling with the limitations of their mortality to find meaning in their purpose. In this way, they concentrate on character flaws more heavily. The protagonist is also not confronted with divine intervention or moral code but is often victim of own flaws.
    • Death imagery
      • The use of imagery containing death and destruction, both in the physical locations of Malfi and the place names of Streetcar, an element of tragedy is maintained throughout each drama. In doing so, the imminence of each heroines downfall is maintained.
    • Duchess of Malfi
      • ‘Doth threaten a violent death’- In the horoscope, the violence and destruction of the later acts is foreshadowed. Although, it is ironic as the baby who’s fortune is foretold here is the only one to survive. 
      • ‘Ancient ruins’- The abbey may act as a symbol of demolished power, reflecting Antonio’s impoverished state.
    • Streetcar
      • ‘Elysian Fields’- The name of the Kowlaski residence creates a classical allusion to the underworld in Greek mythology. Blanche’s journey here, therefore, reflects he own demise.
      • ‘Belle Reve’- The name of the DuBois family home translates as ‘beautiful dream.’ While this has wider connotations, it may reflect Blanche’s own delusional state of mind. ‘Dream’ also makes these delusions temporary, prefiguring her downfall.
    • Context
      • Malfi
        • Malfi- Ruined abbey’s reflect the times in England, a result of the dissolution of the monasteries after the Reformation in Henry VIII’s reign, and are an English landscape feature, not an Italian one. 
      • Streetcar
        • Belle Reve can be seen as a wider comment as a reflection of the American Dream demolished by the war, or as a reflection of French occupation in Napoleonic times.


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