A tragedy is “a play with an unhappy ending”...
... but this is just too simple : there's more !
Tragic plays can be traced back all the way to the beginnings of drama in Ancient Greece. In "Poetics", one of the first books of literary criticism, Aristotle set out the key features of tragedy. Tragic plays would mainly involve :
- a protagonist (the leading central figure) - a tragic hero ;
- a fatal flaw ;
- an antagonist (the opposite of the protagonist).
The protagonist is usually of royal or noble birth. In the course of the play, he/she reveals a character defect (a fatal flaw) which gets him/her to go from success and happiness to failure, misery.... and, often, death -at the hands of an antagonist.
A tragedy was set out to provoke feelings of fear and pity in the audience [...] : a catharsis.