Theatrical drama has long been classified into different genres, as far back as the Greeks. At Greek festivals, playwrights would offer four plays, the first three of which were tragedies. Tragedy plays continue to be an important aspect of drama, one in which the protagonist is brought to ruin. Tragedy remained a staple of drama, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller.
Some of the best-known playwrites in the genre of tragedy include the following:
- August Wilson
- Arthur Miller
So important were tragedy plays to the ancient Greeks that Aristotle attempted to define them in the Poetics, where he declared that the audience reaches an emotional catharsis through the downfall of an important man. Often cited as the classic Greek tragedy is Oedipus the King, where Oedipus, having tried all of his life to avoid his fate, loses everything and blinds himself.
William Shakespeare's work can also be divided into three groupings: comedic, historical and tragedy plays. Critics argue that Shakespeare's tragedies are among his greatest, most complex plays, including the sublime Hamlet. In the Elizabethan Renaissance, many other notable English authors also wrote tragedy plays, including The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
Modern playwrights have removed Aristotle's dictate that a tragedy play must revolve around a great man's downfall. The work of Arthur Miller, for example, examines tragedy in the common man. Death of a Salesman is the most notable example of this.