Difference between Greek Tragedy and Shakespearian Tragedy

A tragedy is a genre of drama, flourished in Greek literature, became famous in Elizabethan literature, where Marlowe and Shakespeare brought it into English literature. Tragedy is a type of drama that presents a serious subject, in a single story, about human suffering, followed by sorrowful or dreadful events in a dignified manner causing a downfall of protagonist.

Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy, both deal with similar subject matters, but there are a little differences. Mostly they have similarities in major terms, but mainly, Shakespeare made it different from Greek tragedies in a broader context. Below are the main differences between Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy.

Differences between Greek tragedy and Shakespearian tragedy

  • Both Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy show a fall of protagonist who holds a high position in a society. Their heroes are from kings, princes, dukes, military generals, or a nobleman of a society who holds a position in a society.
  • Ancient Greek tragedies were written by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus and they were modeled upon religious groundings. Marlowe and Shakespeare wrote mostly Elizabethan tragedies.
  • Greek tragedies always follow beginning, middle and end, but on the other hand, Shakespearean tragedies do not follow proper beginning. In Shakespearean tragedy, A tragedy can start from any scene.
  • Greek tragedies were based on theocentric vision and mostly they carried religious themes where destiny was controlled by divine powers and it was impossible for a protagonist to escape from fate. In Greek tragedies, fall of character is due to destiny that plays a role in the play.
  • In Shakespearean tragedy, character is destiny; the character of an individual is responsible for the downfalls of an individual. In the play, Othello, the downfall of protagonist Othello was due to his own error of judgment that killed his beloved wife because of extreme jealousy. Shakespeare believed that a downfall of the hero is not only controlled by fate but the misjudgment of a protagonist can bring fall on him.
  • Greek tragedies carry a limited number of characters. Mostly they are three who perform on the stage, but Shakespearean tragedies have a sufficient number of characters on the stage.
  • In both tragedies, female characters were not allowed on stage, but the roles of females were performed by men on stage.
  • Greek tragedies involve the use of chorus; who participate in play and describes some scene only by singing, like scene of bloodshed or opening of the play like prologue. A chorus is a band only for singing and dancing and they do not participate in other actions of the play.
  • Shakespearean tragedies do not have chorus band.
  • Greek tragedies were based on a single plot, but Shakespearean tragedies include subplots.
  • Greek tragedies follow three unities: unity of action, unity of time, and unity of place, but Shakespearean tragedies do not follow three unities.
  • There is no space for the comic scene in Greek tragedies, but there are comic scenes in Shakespearean tragedies. In Greek tragedies, Chorus provides relief for the audience, where as in Shakespearean tragedies, comic scenes provide relief to the audience.
  • There is much use of supernatural elements in Shakespearean tragedies like the use of witches in Macbeth or in Hamlet; the Ghost of Hamlet’s father is supernatural, and similarly Caesar’s spirit in his play Julius Caesar; whereas Greek avoided these elements.