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A Comparison of Tragedy

For a story to be a tragedy it has to follow the principles set


by Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, or those of Arthur Miller
who is a twentieth century playwright. A tragedy, in Aristotle's
view, usually concerns the fall of an individual whose character is
good but not perfect and his misfortunes are brought about by the
tragic flaw. This flaw is the part of the character that personifies
him as being tragic. Miller uses this definition of a tragedy but
also broadens it including the common man. All of these
characteristics are seen in the plays Julius Caesar, Death of a
Salesman, and Oedipus Rex.
Although the title of the play Julius Caesar focuses on
Caesar, the play itself is really based on Brutus. "Brutus had
rather be a villager than to repute himself a son of Rome."(Act I,
scene II, line 172). This was said by Brutus after Cassius told him
how Caesar had become a towering figure over Rome and how
Caesar controls Rome. Notice the good in Brutus, and the
extremes he will go to in order to protect democracy in Rome
even if it means killing the one he loves, Caesar. Brutus possesses
one of the most tragic flaws. He is too nice of a person and
therefore he gets taken advantage of. He lets Cassius persuade
him into killing Caesar for the good of Rome. Because he does
for others more than himself he makes a fatal mistake, he lets
Antony live. Brutus says to the conspirators, "For Antony is but a
limb of Caesar"(Act II scene I line 165) meaning that if Caesar is
killed Antony will die off too. Brutus clearly does not regard
Antony as being a threat, but little does Brutus know that
Antony will stir up the town to seek revenge after the

assassination of Caesar. This mistake will cost him his own life.
When he dies he becomes a prime example of tragedy because not
only did he bring about his own death he dies by his own hand.
In Death of a Salesman, Willy Lowman's tragic flaw is that
he is a dreamer who is unable to face the realities of
a modern day society. Willy builds his whole life around the
philosophy that if a person is well liked and good looking then
he will be successful. Willy says to Biff , "I thank Almighty God
that you are both are built like Adonises."(Act I page 33) Later,
Willy makes the comment, "Be liked and you will never
want."(Act I page 33)

His need to be well liked is so strong that

he often lies about his success; at times he even believes his own
lies. Willy always thinks his sons will always be successful
because they are good looking and good at sports, but in reality
they are failures just like Willy. At the end when Biff tries to tell
Willy that he is just a commoner and that he cannot live up to his
father's expectations, that they are "a dime a dozen." Willy thinks
he is just saying this to spite him. Willy says, "I am not a dime a
dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman!"(act II page
132). After this Willy decides to commit suicide so Biff can get
the twenty thousand dollar insurance money and he will finally
make something of himself. "He had the wrong dreams"(requiem
page 138) states Biff at Willy's funeral, but Charley, Willy's best
friend, says "A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the
territory."(requiem page 138) Unfortunately, Willy never realized
that his dreams and values were flawed and he died for it.
In Oedipus Rex Oedipus has a flaw that is unavoidable and
also uncontrollable. His flaw is fate. The plot juxtaposes

Oedipus's ignorance to his own identity with his tragic despair as


he learns that he has killed his father and married his mother.
Oedipus refuses to believe all of the prophecies until his prophet
finally discloses the truth. He knows that he is the one who
killed his father because he is the one who murdered Laius who
in fact turned out to be his father that tried to get rid of him.
After his wife, Jocasta, finds out that Oedipus knows the truth she
commits suicide. "How could I bear to see when all my sight was
horror everywhere?"(ode 4 line 1289) This is said after Oedipus
punishes himself by digging his eyes out. Oedipus then wanders
the land a beggar guided by his daughter, Antigone.
Clearly, then, all of these stories represent a great example
of tragedy. They follow the rules preset by Aristotle and also the
rules of Arthur Miller. We have sympathy for the protagonist in
each play but at the same time we know that their down fall is
brought about by their own ignorance. Even though the character
is tragic he is also a great man because they suffer for the well
being of others.