Tragedy

The below excerpts are all from the book Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, where he discusses tragic plays and their role in society as a means to remind us of our humanity, in the hope that we are less hasty to judge our fellow humans, and ourselves.

“…from prosperity and acclaim to ruin and shame…the way the story was told was likely to leave members of an audience at once hesitant to condemn the hero for what had befallen him and humbled by a recognition of how easily they too might one day be ruined if ever they were presented with a situation similar…

“…an everyday, ordinary kind of human being at the ethical level, someone we could relate to with ease, a person who combined a range of good qualities with certain defects…

“The tragic work would educate us to acquire modesty about our capacity to avoid disaster and at the same time guide us to feel sympathy for those who had met with it…

“…the unknown obscure forces, what Sophocles termed ‘fate’, against which our weak powers of reason and foresight are pitted…

“…the tragic work renders easy condemnation…untenable…

“Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last” [from Sophocles’ Oedipus]

“A tragic work leads us artfully through…the perverse relationship between intentions and results.

On reading Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: “We end [the] novel with fear and sadness at how we have been made to live before we can begin to know how, at how limited our understanding of ourselves and others is, at how great and catastrophic are the consequences of our actions, and at how pitiless and uncompromising our community can be in response to our errors.

In summary: “Tragedy inspires us to abandon ordinary life’s simplified perspective on failure and defeat, and renders us generous towards the foolishness and transgressions endemic to our nature”

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