Tragedy began in ancient Greece, of course, and the first great tragedies were staged as part of a huge festival known as the City Dionysia. Thousands of Greek men, that is for no women were allowed would gather in the vast amphitheatre to watch a trilogy of tragic plays, such as Aeschylus’ Oresteia. In terms of genre, tragedy requires a tragic hero and usually it is a man, one who is usually tempted to perform a deed though not always, a murder, after which the hero’s fortunes eventually suffer a decline, ending with his death or her death as in the case of Antigone. More recently, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen created the definitive tragic heroine of modern theatre, Hedda Gabler, in his 1890 play of that name. Hedda has been called ‘the female Hamlet’, because it is the ‘Holy Grail’ role which actresses want to take on. In this article I will talk about what the bourgeois tragedy is, what are the elements of this drama, the first playwrights used it, and who is Henrik Ibsen and his contributions to this genre through his two plays Rosmersholm and An Enemy of the People by the support of the journals, articles, plays and books I have read so far.
What is bourgeoisie tragedy?
Bourgeois tragedy is a type of tragedy developed in 18th century Europe. This is the fruit of enlightenment and the emergence of the bourgeois class and ideals. Bourgeois – middle-class had tragedy and domestic tragedy that ignored the neoclassical requirement of royal protagonists and drew tragic heroes and heroines from the emerging middle class. This means that it is characterized by the fact that its heroes are ordinary citizens. Bourgeois tragedies tend to spread the values of the bourgeois class to which their heroes belong. He is a virtuous citizen whose ideals are excluded from state affairs and his intentions are focused on private and family life. Values such as virtue, humanity, individuality and real feelings are valuable in bourgeois tragedies.
The popularity of this sordid drama of an apprentice who murders his uncle-guardian influenced domestic tragedy in France and Germany. Known also as Domestic Tragedy, this genre found its mature expression in the plays of Henrik Ibsen toward the end of the 19th century. In earlier domestic dramas by other playwrights the protagonists were sometimes villains and at other times merely pathetic, but the bourgeois heroes of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1882), and Rosmersholm (1886) are besieged with some of the abstracted majesty of the heroes of classical tragedy.
What are the elements of this tragedy?
When we look upon the main characteristics of the bourgeoisie tragedy, or domestic tragedy we can find that it is focused on bourgeois family concerns and it is often dramatization of 18th century middle-class morality. Also we can notice that its themes are generally sentimental and melodramatic. One may say that this type of the drama is an evidence of the rising middle class as a political and social force. Its subject is usually based on murders, pattern of sin, repentance, punishment and expectation of divine mercy. In general, the majority of the content of the plays of this genre are dominated by jealousy, cupidity and lust rather than rivalry, ambition, love and hatred.
Many playwrights wrote a lot of works on this genre, but we will only focus on Henrik Ibsen, the one who can also be called as the father of the genre and his two plays An Enemy of the People and Rosmersholm.
Before starting to detailed analysis of the author and the characteristics of this genre in his two plays, I want to give some brief information about who he is. Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828, in Skien, Norway and was automatically entered into the middle class – bourgeoisie. In 1862, he was exiled to Italy, where he wrote the tragedy Brand. In 1868, Ibsen moved to Germany, where he wrote one of his most famous works: the play A Doll’s House. With his twin dramatic poems, or poetic dramas, Brand and Peer Gynt, he had won a large reading public and status as Scandinavia’s most promising dramatist. In 1890, he wrote Hedda Gabler, creating one of theater’s most notorious characters. By 1891, Ibsen had returned to Norway a literary hero. He died on May 23, 1906, in Oslo, Norway.
If we talk about Ibsen’s contributions to the bourgeoisie tragedy, of course, we can say many things. In his essay “The dialogic self in A Doll’s House and The Wild Duck” Kwokkan Tam analyses Ibsen’s use of dramatic dialogue in his plays. He shows the radical change of Ibsen’s characters in these plays “with the most trusted people becoming the most suspected”. Moreover he points out the qualities of Ibsen’s female characters by saying “Ibsen presents a new type of women characters in the history of modern drama – women with a heightened sense of self who are capable of integrating the male and female principles.” H. K. Riikonen surveys the characterization of these people in nineteenth century Norway, says “As opponents to the representatives of absolute values, high moral standards, or some great idea or purpose, several of Ibsen’s characters propagate moderation and temperance. Such characters as the printer Aslaksen in An Enemy of the People. Nearly in all of his plays, his characters are distinguished by their staunch, well-established bourgeois lives as in the case in An Enemy of the People and Rosmersholm.
- Wikipedia contributors. ‘Bourgeois tragedy.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Dec. 2019. Web. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourgeois_tragedy. 29 March 2020.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Domestic tragedy.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 February 2016. Web. www.britannica.com/art/domestic-tragedy. 29 March 2020.
- Biography.com Editors. “Henrik Ibsen Biography.” The Biography.com website. 1 April 2014. Web. www.biography.com/writer/henrik-ibsen. 29 March 2020.
- “Interesting Literature.” A Brief History of Tragedy, 2013, interestingliterature.com/2013/05/a-brief-history-of-tragedy/. Accessed 29 March 2020.