LITR 4533:

Midterm Samples 2000
complete exam, ex. 2

[Instructor's comments, followed by exam as submitted]

Dear Student,

I've liked hearing your contributions in class, and your writing is at least as good. You have the writer's gift of making connections and interweaving parts. You have conscience. Welcome to tragedy.

Grade: A

LITR 4533: Tragedy—UHCL, summer 2000

Midterm examination—15 June 2000, 9-11:50pm

Start Time: 12:00pm

Part 1:Genre

            Genre is a term that is used to classify or describe a type or form of literature. While this sounds like a simple concept, it in actuality is a very complicated {classing} system. The reason for the complication is that literature does not always follow the typical characteristics set up by that type of genre. For example, one of the characteristics in the genre of tragedy is that there is a tragic hero, who is in a position of power. In the classical tragedy this is true, as can be seen in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex because the tragic hero is Oedipus, who is the king of Thebes. In the Renaissance tragedy this is not always the case such as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the tragic hero is only a prince. Where this characteristic is completely abandoned is in the modern tragedy by Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms, where the character playing the tragic hero is a farmer and it is difficult to determine which character is the true tragic hero. Another aspect of genre that makes the concept difficult to define is that there are parts of plays that fall into other genres. An example of this is seen in parts of Desire Under the Elms, such as the party scene at the Cabot home. Although this play is a tragedy, in this scene there is comedy occurring in the witty remarks from the partiers and in the silly jig Ephraim dances. As one can see the simple concept of genre poses many complications when {utilized} to define a piece of literature.

            Genre is divided into two categories, which are representational genre and narrative genre. The first category, representational genre, consist of the "number and types of voices" in the piece of literature. (handout) There are three types of representative genre. The first type is Narrator, which is when one speaker talks directly to the audience and that speaker is responsible for telling the whole story to the audience without the aid of other opinions or sides to the story of the other persons involved. An example of this is when a comedian is doing stand up. The audience gets to hear the funny story of let’s say when the comedian learned to ride a bike and his father let go to soon and the comedian fell etc. The comedian has the responsibility of telling this story to the audience, but the audience only hears the comedian’s side of the story. Another type of representative genre is Dialogue, which consist of more than one character speaking with each other. In this form, the audience acts as a third party and only gets to overhear and not have someone speak to them directly. An example of this is in Desire Under the Elms because the characters just converse with each other. The final type is Narrator plus Dialogue and this is a combination of the first two. The characters speak to each other but there is one character who acts a narrator and tells the audience what is going on. This is exemplified in a new sitcom called Titus. In this sitcom the characters talk to each other, but the main character Titus has side conversations with the audience where he reflects on the events.

            The other category of genre is the narrative genre in which the type of plot is described. These can be combined as is shown in my earlier example of comedy showing up in tragedy or a romantic comedy. The categories of the narrative genre are tragedy, comedy, romance, and satire. The first category tragedy starts with a problem that the tragic hero must solve, be it revenge taken or the truth discovered, and ends with the resolution to the problem where the tragic hero is banished or killed. The purest example of a tragedy is Oedipus Rex because there is a problem that the hero must solve and he is banished in order to solve the problem. Another type is the comedy in which there is a less significant problem that the characters try to solve and the story ends happily with the characters uniting in a marriage or party. A Midsummer Night’s Dream exemplifies this because there is a plague due to the fighting of Titania and Oberon and there are young lovers trying to overcome the attempt at separating each other. The characters try to solve these problems and at the end there is a marriage and a party. Romance is another form of narrative genre in which the all begins well the characters are separated but the solution is they reunite and live happily ever after. This can be seen in the young lovers mentioned in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finally, Satire is a category in which an original [existing?] story is spoofed. An example of this is the movie Naked Gun which satirizes the old cop movies.

            In comparison to other types of literature courses, the study of genre has advantages in that it helps to classify literature in ways that make it easy to see the typical characteristics. This can aid in comparing different works of literature and provide a starting point in analyzing literature. The problem with studying genre is that because it is so vague and that the works do not purely follow the guidelines in the genres it is difficult to define genre. Also, it is difficult to define the works using genre because there are so many different types of genre that different parts of the works can fall into.

Part 2: Compare and contrast Tragedy and Comedy

            A tragedy is defined as beginning with a problem that affects everyone, i.e. the whole town or all the characters involved; the tragic hero must solve this problem and this results in his banishment or death. A comedy is defined as also beginning with a problem, but one of less significant importance. The characters try to solve the problem and the story ends with all the characters uniting in either a marriage of a party. Although these two genres are seen as being complete opposites of each other, through further analysis one can gather that though they are different certain similarities can also be seen.

            One aspect of these genres that can be compared and contrasted is the narrative or plot. A comparison can be analyzed in that both begin with a problem. In Oedipus Rex, the play begins with a plague devastating the city of Thebes. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream there is also a plague that is upon the land. However, a difference between these two beginnings is that in Oedipus Rex the citizen are effected by it to the point that they look towards Oedipus for a solution to their suffering; while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the effects of the plague are never shown to the audience and it seems a minor detail. Another difference is the cause of the plague in the two plays. In the tragedy, Oedipus Rex, the hero ends up being the cause because he murdered the king; while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the cause is a fight between Titania and Oberon. Another point that can be compared and contrasted is the search for a solution in the plots. In Hamlet, Hamlet is searching for the truth to discover if his father was really murdered by his uncle and if this is true he must correct the situation by killing his uncle. Also, in Oedipus Rex this plot is seen in that Oedipus is searching for the truth about the murder of the old king, Laios, and the situation will be resolved by the murder being banished from Thebes. In contrast A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more centered around the lovers trying to overcome the forces that separate them and Oberon seeking revenge on Titania. However, in Desire Under the Elms, the characters Abbie and Eben are trying to overcome the forces that keep their love in secrecy. The end of the plays is another contrast because all the tragedies end in death or banishment but in A Midsummer Night’s Dream they all live happily ever after and unite in marriage and have a party. The plague mentioned at the beginning is forgotten and the character puck tells the audience that all is well.

            Another aspect of comedy and tragedy that can be compared and contrasted is the characters of the play. A similarity is that in the tragedies of Hamlet and Oedipus Rex the main characters are royalty, and in the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream the characters of Titania, Oberon, Hippolyta, and Theseus are royalty. Also, in Desire Under the Elms the characters are farmers and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the characters of Bottom and the other persons in his play are also men who work with their hands. A difference between all these characters is that in the tragedies all the characters are dealing with serious issues that effect the whole outcome of their lives in that they die due to the problem or are banished as outcast from their homes or are sent to jail and are uncertain of if they will live. While in comedy the characters are faced with serious problems but it is handled in a humorous way with a sense that all will end well. This is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when Hermia is faced with the serious option of a loveless marriage, a life as a nun, or running away from home; however the consequence of her choice to run away from home is solved with magic and the silly switching of loves that is righted in the morning. [well-put] Another aspect of the characters is the use of humor in the plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the characters of royalty use high humor and wit; likewise Hamlet uses wit and at the party in Desire Under the Elms a kind of wit is used. Also, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the character Bottom uses low humor by inappropriately using words, using body and food humor. This is also seen in Hamlet with the gravedigger scene in that they mispronounce words; and in Desire Under the Elms in that the brothers Simeon and Peter use low humor. One of the big differences between the humor used by the characters in comedy and tragedy is that the humor in tragedy takes on a dark tone due to the context that the humor is used in. It can’t be light humor because it’s about serious subject matter like death and incest.

            Finally, the audience appeal in comedy and tragedy is an aspect of the two that has similarities and differences. The audience in a tragedy leaves that tragedy with a sense that they have witnessed something so horrible that their lives are good in comparison. Also, in the case of the three tragedies we have studied the audience gets to vicariously fulfill the taboo of the Oedipus complex and see the horrible consequences to that desire.] The audience appeal in comedy is that they get to see serious problems dealt with in a humorous manner that can help them see that their problems may not be as serious as they thought.] While the audience sees the subjects dealt with in different ways both comedy and tragedy help them to gauge their own problems in comparison.

            While comedy and tragedy are usually viewed as two entirely different subjects, there are some similarities between the two. They both begin with serious problems but the true difference is in the way those problems are handled and the consequences that the characters suffer from those problems.

Part 3: Tragedy and Its Evolution

            The tragedy is one of the earliest forms of literature and is considered on of the greatest genres of literature. Because of the age of this genre, it stands to reason that many variations have occurred throughout the years to make it reflect that time period. The genre of tragedy tends to be considered great because it occurs during great periods of history, it is about great men, and it is written by great writers. The evolution of tragedy and the characteristics of tragedy are exemplified in the comparison of Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and Desire Under the Elms.

            In the comparison of Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and Desire Under the Elms the characteristics of tragedy are revealed. One characteristic is that tragedy appears during great times in history. It is thought that tragedy only occurs during great times in history because the people during those times have a sense of confidence that they can handle the horror of tragedy. Oedipus Rex was written during ancient Greece, which is considered the birthplace of the western culture. Ancient Greece is a time of great enlightenment in all of the arts, so it is not surprising that this is one of the beginnings of the tragedy. During this time Greece is rising in power so the people could enjoy watching others face hard times. Hamlet was written during another great period of history, the Renaissance. During this time people are moving out of the Middle Ages into a time of enlightenment, where a rebirth of interest in the arts occurs. This time also is marked by a confidence in one having a prosperous future and the country as a whole looking toward a good life. Finally, Desire Under the Elms appeared during what is called the Modern period. The Modern period is another time in history where an enlightenment in the arts occurs and there are many progressions in literature. All three periods are marked by an interest in the arts occurs and where their country is experiencing a sense of power. This can be compared to the current time period in that we have a sense of power and we realize the significance of art, so that we appreciate the tragedies of the past. However, one does not see an emergence of new tragedies being written because we always have a feeling that bad times could be ahead of us.

            Another characteristic of tragedy that can be identified in the comparison of these three tragedies is in the significance of plot. Plot is considered the soul of tragedy because it is what governs the actions of the characters and provides the needed impact for the audience. If Hamlet had discovered that Polonius was behind the curtain before he killed him, then the view of Hamlet’s personality and the audience’s reaction to this action would have been very different. By the killing occurring before Polonius is identified, Hamlet is still viewed as a good guy and the audience has a reaction of surprise. Another example of how the plot can govern the development of a character and audience reaction is in Oedipus Rex. If Oedipus knew he was adopted before he went to the oracle, then he never would have gone to Thebes to avoid the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother. Therefore he never would have been considered great for solving the Sphinx’s riddle, and the audience would not see him as a tragic hero because he never would have suffered banishment for murdering the king. The plot is significant to tragedy because it is what makes it a higher, more complex form of literature. The plot governs every aspect of the tragedy, whereas in other genres the humor or the feelings of the characters can cover a bad plot. Tragedy can also be seen as a more significant piece of literature because it requires more seriousness, and a higher level of emotional involvement from the audience.

            Thirdly, the reoccurring theme of the Oedipal Complex is present in Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and Desire Under the Elms. The Oedipal Complex is a theory by Freud that every male child has the desire to murder his father and marry his mother. In Oedipus Rex, where the name the Oedipal Complex comes from, Oedipus receives prophesy from an oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid this fate he leaves home only to unknowingly kill his father and marry his mother. When he discovers that the man he killed at the crossroads was King Laios, his true father, and that his wife Iokaste is really his mother; he blinds himself and is banished from Thebes. In Hamlet, the Oedipal Complex is present but much more subtly. Hamlet’s mother asks to speak with him alone. The hint that there is an attraction is that his father’s ghost appears and lets Hamlet know that he does not belong in his mother’s chamber. Also, the fact that Hamlet kills his stepfather is in part portraying the aspect of the Oedipal Complex of the desire to kill the father. In Desire Under the Elms the Oedipal Complex is seen in that Eben wants his father dead and has an affair with his stepmother. I believe this reoccurrence of the Oedipal Complex is because there is a small desire in young males to have an attraction to their mother and a hatred for their father. Also, because the acting out of this theory provides the audience a way of vicariously acting out this desire and seeing the horrible consequences so that they will not perform this desire themselves.

            Perhaps the most important information one can gather from comparing these three tragedies, is the evolution of the genre of tragedy. Oedipus Rex is the purest form of tragedy because it follows the characteristics exactly. The tragic hero is a king and he is the one responsible for the problems facing Thebes. When the truth is discovered, by the tragic hero, he is punished by banishment and the plague is lifted. Also, the spectacle takes place off stage and this is considered a higher form of literature because the description is enough to satisfy the audience. Hamlet is still considered a tragedy although it has evolved from many of the traditional ideals of tragedy. Hamlet is the tragic hero but he is only a prince instead of a king. He also faces a problem that he must discover the truth and right the wrong. When all is righted, Hamlet is killed also in the process. The differences occur in that there are comical moments in Hamlet, which in a traditional tragedy would not occur; and that the spectacle of the characters being killed takes place onstage. The further changing of the genre of tragedy is seen in Desire Under the Elms. In this play the tragic hero is thought to be Eben but at times could be his father. Also, the characters instead of being royalty are farmers. There is also a problem that needs to be brought to light in this play and the solution is also the punishment of the hero. Only, unlike the first two plays the problem does not affect the country as a whole; it only effects the people involved. Perhaps because of the lower of the class of the characters, there is also comedy in this play, which differs from the classical tragedy. One way that this play returns to the traditional form is that the spectacle takes place offstage again.

            By comparing and contrasting Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and Desire Under the Elms the characteristics of tragedy and the evolution of tragedy can be determined. All three of these plays are great tragedies even if not all of them follow the characteristics of tragedy. It further proves that each period must make their own personal mark on the ideas of the arts in order to establish themselves as a distinct and great time period. [very good pick-up of earlier point] Without the evolution of these ideas, cultures would be stifled in the creative process and not stand out as an individual expressing the feelings of their time period.

Concluding Note:

            I had no problem getting the midterm sample. I found it very helpful in that it eased my apprehension before taking the midterm. I had a better idea of what was expected in the essays.

Stop Time 2:47