The Tragedie of Antony and Cleopatra. That’s the title. Tragedy.
Let’s take a look…
We’ve discussed the concept of tragedy and comedy before.
This is certainly not a comedy (in any way, shape or form).
Aristotelian-ly speaking, it’s no tragedy, either, exactly. It certainly isn’t about a single thing or action; you could easily lose some of the scenes in this play, without losing much (as many of the video versions can attest). It certainly doesn’t take place over the course of a single day (or year, or half-dozen years, for that matter).
But it does reflect Aristotle’s definition in one way: it pertains to great people, powerful people, god-like people.
What happens to these people?
Again, according to the ancient Greeks, the tragic hero is subjected to a reversal of fortune (almost always from good to bad). This reversal is supposed to create fear and pity in the audience, finally resulting in a catharsis, a release of emotions, an emotional cleansing.
According to Aristotle, the reversal of fortune is caused by the central character’s hamartia. Many have incorrectly translated this as “tragic flaw” as if it was some kind of character flaw or personality defect that causes the downfall. But, technically, this is incorrect. Hamartia is an “error in judgment.” It comes from hamartanein, which was the situation of an archer missing his target; so, really, it’s more like the character is trying to achieve his goal, but a mistake carries his downfall.
Aristotle also posits that the tragic hero should achieve some kind of anagnorisis, or recognition or revelation about his situation and his position in the world/universe (or sometime just between himself and his antagonist).
So who’s the tragic hero? Antony? Cleopatra? Both?
More on this in the coming days…