Concepts and theories
Focuses on the breakdown of a family
They tend to be tightly constructed
Contain fewer characters than Epic or classical
The setting tends to be much more specific
Two types of tragedy side by side
Epic tragedy Domestic tragedy
Ambitious Seemingly less ambitious
Stresses the nobility of the tragic hero Focuses on the family
Raises fundamental questions about Undermines our confidence in any
Shows the full horror of life Shows that domesticity can be corrupt
Conventional social bonds are broken Rational social order is no longer
Focuses on the hero Focuses on the anti-hero
Anti-hero: a character who does not fit the
normal model of heroism.
Similarities between epic and
Some act takes place that disrupts society
The social concord is broken and more violent
elements take over
With order gone, the worst face of humanity is
The hero or anti-hero has to confront these
One or more of the characters move towards
Choose a speech from Streetcar. Transfer
approximately 20 lines of it to a display
method and annotate it showing how it
displays some of the characteristics you have
learnt about tragedy so far.
Not only do tragedies involve the death of one or
more of the main characters, but also consider a range
of related themes as they progress. Some tragedies
also have a sub-plot which complicates the drama and
allows the dramatist to explore other aspects of
Official definition – a secondary plot which parallels
events of the main plot of a drama.
A typical domestic tragedy
The audience sometimes has to read behind the
lines to pull the maximum meaning of the
drama. The themes and issues in domestic
tragedy are just as grand and ambitious as
those in epic tragedies, but characters do not
tend to make the grand, confessional-style
speeches that you find in Shakespeare and his
Changes in 19th C society and
In the 1880’s and 1890s a wave of feminist
thinking and agitation-fiercely resisted by most
men-swept across Europe. A new, more
independent, kind of woman seemed to many
to emerging. In Britain she was referred to as
the ‘new woman’, and in lots of ways this
‘new woman’ prefigured the feminist
movement in the late 1960s and 1970s.
In fiction, the same issue was being looked at
by writers such as Thomas Hardy. In terms of
our understanding of tragedy we can see that
this ‘new woman’ upset the traditional order of
society. Given this, any drama that looked at
the theme of the ‘new woman’ would probably
end in tragedy.
In Europe in the 19th C, theatre had been
characterised by sentimental and sensationalist
storylines, declamatory melodramatic acting
and unrealistic, flat sets. Towards the end of
the 19th C, many playwrights wanted to write
dramas that were more realistic, involving
domestic storylines, everyday language and
box-sets, which resembled real houses and
followed the principles of acting suggested and
formalised by the Russian theatrical theorist
Stanislavski had a major influence on some
American writers of tragedy-such as Arthur
Miller, Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee
Williams. For Stanislavski, it was important
for the actors to ‘believe in the truth’ of the
drama to have a ‘naturalness’ when in role.
This would then enhance the tragedy.
Feminism – a recognition of the historical and
cultural subordination of women, and the
resolve to do something about it.
Box-Set – a realistic three-dimensional set,
with the fourth wall cut so the audience can
Modern Domestic Tragedies
Modern domestic tragedies tend to be ‘issue-
led.’ This means that the tragedy looks at a
particular issue and examines its effect on the
central characters. Most domestic tragedies
foucs on anti-heroes, who do not fit the society
in which they are involved. Most characters in
these tragedies face some kind of predicament.
Issues often depicted in domestic tragedies
Materialism – an excessive regard for material
Consumerism – contemporary society’s obsession
with consumer spending on new products and
Procrastination – to postpone or put off doing
something. Many characters in modern domestic
tragedies fail to make necessary changes to improve
their lives, and this can contribute to their downfall.
Alienation – a feeling that people experience when
the world around them becomes unfamiliar and
Other key terms to clarify
Modern tragedy – one written in the late 19th
or 20th century, earlier than a contemporary
tragedy (late 20th or 21st Century).
Box set – a realistic three dimensional set.
Links to tragedy in general
Modern domestic tragedies can still have the same
effects on the audience as those identified by
Aristotle, but they also cause the audience to question
established systems and principles and assumptions
about life. Some modern playwrights try to subvert
‘normal’ values in ore ways than one, breaking
established conventions of drama as well as subject
matter. Some plays reflect the horror and tragedy of
modern life, and some are fragmented and disordered,
reflecting more secular beliefs and the experience of
large-scale war and conflict.
Structurally, the plays are usually much more
condensed than epic tragedies – most only having
three acts. There is also more emphasis on exactly
what the set should look like, as well as on
costuming, sound, lighting, stage directions and how
particular sections of the text are to be spoken. This
is partly because modern playwrights are more
concerned about such details, and partly because of
the technical advances in the theatre. Most modern
tragedies are staged in box-sets.
Summary of elements in DT
Central characters are anti-heroes or heroines
These characters are ordinary people-not the great men or women of earlier
Although family life is central, it is presented as somehow corrupt and
This corruption undermines the faith and belief in the whole order of
The world is seen as being full of deceit, and prizes or dreams chased are
Often characters vie and manoeuvre for control
There is often an emphasis on psychological elements.
The disorder of the world sometimes matches a disorder of the mind.
Deaths are not usually shown on stage, but happen offstage (or are
Earlier tragedies tend to look ‘outwards’; modern domestic tragedies look
Usually, some element of the past impinges tragically on the present.
Remember to consider…
The use of flashback
Structural devices – acts/scenes, etc.
Use of irony
Compacted time frame
Core speeches – the main characters of
tragedies make core speeches on which much
of the tragedy is centred
The Coursework on Streetcar
Re-creative – This piece is not an essay but a
piece of creative writing. It must be
accompanied by a commentary – combined
word length is 1200-1500 words
Examiner’s tip – in preparing a re-creative
response, ask yourself what critical issues you
are hoping to raise in the process. Make sure
that you do more than simply retell the story or
copy the style.
This has two purposes: 1) to allow you discuss
what you have been trying to do in terms of re-
creating the tragic play. 2) and more important
is to allow you to reflect on how the re-
creative process has thrown light on potential
meanings and ambiguities in the play.
Some things to include…
Why the original play lends itself to the
approach you have taken
The debates and ambiguities in the play tha
tyou have attempted to highlight
Further insights you gained into the play
through writing this piece
Further ways of approaching the play and/or
further ideas you could have explored.
Re-Creative Options for Streetcar
Writing as the doctor – Write a psychiatric
report on Blanche and her condition to be sent
Writing as Eunice – Write a letter to your
sister describing the fall-out four months after
Blanche has left Elysian Fields and the current
relationship between Stella and Stanley.