Follow TV Tropes



Go To

In a sentence, you could say that Tragedy concerns itself with the fall of a protagonist due to their own mistakes and/or flaws.

As a genre, tragedy is Older Than Feudalism. It has changed quite a bit since its conception in ancient Greece, and nowadays is a dying genre... how tragic! Soon it will be just as dead as Irony.

As you can guess from the above facetiousness, Tragedy is also as clingy as Irony and as difficult to define and apply. It's not enough to be on the deeply cynical end and have a Twist or Downer Ending with plenty of Drama and artsy angst along the way, or have the hero's happy home life destroyed with a girlfriend raped and a dead little sister; it has to be of an epic scope with inexorable and self-inflicted pain brought about for past sins. And, despite all that, it also has to give the viewer closure.


This last one is perhaps the hardest to capture correctly. After all is said and done, the audience should not feel impotent rage, denial, confusion, or having been cheated. They should feel that the ending is a natural outcome to the hero's actions, and that in having faced punishment for those actions they [the audience] are purged of anxiety and worry. The world does make sense, the guilty are punished.

Aristotle's guidelines form the basis of Tragedy, as outlined in Poetics; here they are much abbreviated:

  • Have a hero of great status and prosperity (which is why many tragic main characters are nobles or royalty), who suffers a terrible fall, usually death.
  • The fall is brought on by his own Fatal Flaw and past mistakes. His character should be consistent and unchanging to make his fall inevitable, such as being Prideful or stubborn, or so good and persistent such that fixing his mistakes destroys him.
  • Advertisement:
  • The audience has to feel catharsis at his death, an emotional "purging" where the audience should feel relief and cleansing. Whether this catharsis is due to the schadenfreude, relief at having it better off than the character, or generally releasing pent-up anxiety is debated to this day.
  • While you do not need The Reveal and reversal of fortune (peripeteia in Greek) stemming from it, Aristotle considered those tragedies superior to those without it.

To borrow a simplifying example from Educating Rita, Macbeth is generally considered a tragedy in literary terms because, throughout the play, Macbeth is warned time and time again by numerous parties (including the universe itself) that his actions will bring nothing but doom and misery upon himself and his family. However, because he is blinded by his own greed and ambition, he ignores these warnings and proceeds regardless until it is much too late to avoid catastrophe. In other words, Macbeth's terrible fate could have been avoided but is ultimately inevitable because his own character flaws have made it so. On the other hand, a man who suddenly and unexpectedly gets hit and killed by a falling tree while going about his daily business isn't usually considered a tragedy in the literary sense (although his loved ones will likely find it a tragedy in a personal sense), because the man's fate isn't preordained or a result of his own character flaws; if he'd known that being at that precise spot at that precise moment in advance would have killed him, he'd have likely chosen to take a different route. In the first example, the main character cannot escape his fate due to the circumstances he exists in and his own flaws, while, in the second, the main character's fate would have been entirely avoidable and likely avoided had he known about it in advance.

On the other hand, "tragedy" in Greek times did not need to be soul-crushingly pessimistic and have a Downer Ending; Aristotle thought the best tragic plot had The Reveal in time for him to refrain and therefore not have the downfall. In fact, the opposite of a tragedy originally was not a comedy, but rather an epic. Whereas an epic typically unfolds and "opens up" to a world of unknown horrors and delights for the hero to explore, a tragedy "closes down" on the hero, prohibiting him from anything else he may think to try until at the climax of the story he is forced into one all-important decision on which everything good or bad that may follow ultimately hinges. The story of Oedipus is a tragedy in this sense not because its ending is so horrible, but because every hope Oedipus had for escaping his cruel fate was ultimately thwarted, and because everything ultimately hinges on what he decides to do when the Awful Truth is finally made known to him. Other tragedies from the time might present a better decision to the hero, and might end well if he chooses wisely. Eventually, however, the meaning of the term shifted; such a potentially Happy Ending precludes a work's being a tragedy nowadays.

To subvert a tragedy is complex. It's not enough to try for the spectacle of a gruesome Grand Guignol and stuff it up with Satire and dead babies, tack on a happy ending, or pull on heartstrings with dead babies. To subvert tragedy for real, you have to get into the cycle of catharsis and break one of the literary elements of greatness, hubris, downfall, or change, which is easier said than done; even the great Arthur Miller couldn't really do it (by his own admission, Death of a Salesman, while excellent, nonetheless failed in subverting the greatness element of the tragic form). Or, just make it a Comedy, which is basically the whole thing Played for Laughs. Though that's not really a subversion, just an interesting detail about comedy.

Common tragedies are: Greek Tragedy, Shakespearean Tragedy, and the more recent Bourgeois Tragedy. Tragedy is directly opposed to Comedy.

A typical Tragedy includes:

  • The Bad Guy Wins: Sub-Trope of Downer Ending in which the hero loses and only the villain(s) come out on top.
  • Being Good Sucks: The protagonist usually is trying to live like a good man, but past mistakes mean they have some heavy atoning to do that they can not dodge.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The moment when it's already too late.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: According to Aristotle, the protagonist must be punished for an error, but with the punishment spectacularly exceeding the crime.
  • Doomed Protagonist: In this case, their own Fatal Flaw is what brings about their inevitable demise.
  • Downer Ending: Tragedies never end well for the protagonist.
  • Dramatic Irony: The audience often knows crucial information that our protagonist does not.
  • Fallen Hero: If they survive.
  • Fatal Flaw: A key part of many tragic heroes, which leads them to commit their Tragic Mistake. Pride has been one of the most common since the Greeks.
  • Foreshadowing: You know what they say about trusting too much in prophecies? Well, foreshadowing can be thought of as one...
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: If the protagonist does notice his flaws, it's already too late.
  • The Hero Dies: The protagonists in their plays were usually killed off in the end.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Seriously, if the protagonists thought out their actions before attempting their heroism, then the situation wouldn't have gotten worse.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: While the protagonist started out noble, only too late do they realize that they've gradually made the transition to becoming the villain of their own story.
  • "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc: A common trope in gangster films, in which the first half of the film depicts the gangster's rise to power, and the second half depicts their fall
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Many tragic heroes unwittingly bring about the very events that they were trying to avert.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The hero(es) efforts are All for Nothing.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Many tragic romances involve two people who want to be together but are doomed to be kept apart.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Like Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!, if the protagonists had thought things through before they acted, the tragedy could have been avoided.
  • Tragic Dream: Oh, dear. Without that nagging dream driving them, the protagonists wouldn't have driven themselves and/or other characters into the ground.
  • Tragic Hero: Frequently combined with heroic archetypes like Knight in Shining Armor.
  • Tragic Ice Character: A character of ice and snow who went through a trauma event in their life.
  • Tragic Mistake: Often called the hamartia, this is that one crucial mistake that sends everything crashing down.
  • Tragic Villain: A villain who isn't meant to be a villain after all.
  • Twist Ending: Surprise! It failed! Or, whatever the protagonists did, or even why they did it, was rendered utterly pointless. Or, it worked; but screwed something else up in some other, unforeseen way. Anyway, it's ended, whatever it was.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The hero's tragic flaw often leads him to do rather... unheroic things.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: A fairly common theme.

Greek tragedy in general is the Trope Namer for Deus ex Machina.

When adding examples, please remember that just because a work is dark and "tragic", it is not necessarily a tragedy. Tragedies need to be about a character being destroyed by their own character flaws and mistakes.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Japanese animated film and book Ringing Bell (known as Chirin no Suzu in Japan) is of the classic revenge variety, in which the protagonist's desire to avenge his mother's murder winds up ruining him: becoming a monster that is not wolf nor sheep, being shunned by his sheep brethren because of this, killing his mentor/father figure— who was also his mother's murderer— and Dying Alone.
  • Code Geass has some Tragedy moments too. The first season's ending (him abandoning the Black Knights during their invasion and thus causing their defeat) due to main character's mistakes and his reliance on his Morality Chain. And the second season's ending (his own death, as the price to give the world peace but with none knowing for how long) due to his mistakes after losing his Morality Chain twice, at first due to her apparent death and then due to him having to go against her.
  • Death Note is a classic tragedy if one simplifies the story to its essentials. The protagonst Light Yagami is someone of high social standing, and is a significant individual in that he is greater than most others. However, he has a flaw in that he's too proud. Because of this and the tragic coincidence that leads him to the Death Note, he enjoys some time of greatness, but in the end he falls from grace and is killed because of his mistakes and flaws.
    • Even interpreting it the other way, it can still be viewed as a tragedy. Even with the ultimate villain (Light) finally dying in the end, he still ultimately succeeded in killing almost all the heroes and protagonists and manipulating and using so many people before it happened.
  • A lot of the individual arcs of Higurashi: When They Cry fit the definition of a tragedy, with the Downer Endings often being due to the actions of one of the main characters, and the Fatal Flaw that causes it often being paranoia and lack of trust in their friends.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion, the subject of endless Ph.D theses to this day. A cast of characters, with deep psychological flaws they can't communicate, are brought to the brink of ruin, but they're all so unable to overcome their personal demons and shadows, that they ultimately pay the price for it. Though the actual scale of the price paid is rather...extreme.
  • Weiß Kreuz is a tragedy, set in a world of hell - implied by Hidaka Ken - where villains are free to get what they want at the expense of the innocent lives, and without getting punished by laws. The heroes, Weiss, are themselves bloody, murderous monsters as well, and are determined to live a life full of guilt in order to provide the innocent better tomorrows.
  • Grave of the Fireflies is a tragedy written to not only reflect the cruelty of war, but also reflect the protagonist's guilt for not being able to save his own sister from starvation due to his pride.
  • Boys' Love Genre Ai no Kusabi has a tragic ending which is either a Bittersweet Ending or a Downer Ending depending on the viewer. Regardless, Riki and Iason died for their forbidden love at the end.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica fits this to a T. Every main character is brought down as a result of their own flaws. Their mistakes are made with the best of intentions. Any diversion away from their fates would require outside intervention. Also worth noting is a couple of the characters do realize their mistake in time to do something, but only at the cost of their lives.
  • The Golden Age Arc of Berserk is very much a tragedy. Two of the prevailing themes of the story is how one fateful decision can turn the tides of destiny with horrible consequences and how the love that the three main characters have for one another can potentially cause more pain than happiness.
  • Tokyo Ghoul makes it explicitly clear from the very first chapter that it is going to be a Tragedy. Still, many were surprised when the original series concluded with a Downer Ending where The Bad Guy Wins, leaving the majority of the cast either scattered to the wind or missing. From the beginning, Ken Kaneki describes himself as the protagonist of a Tragedy and it proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. His decision to recklessly seek power while claiming to need it to protect everyone destroys his sanity, alienates him from the very people he swore to protect, causes his Love Interest to reject him with an epic "Reason You Suck" Speech, and ends with him not only losing control of his Superpowered Evil Side but unable to save anyone. He's finally forced to confront the truth of his actions, realizing he was selfish and motivated by the fear of being alone. On the bright side, the sequel Tokyo Ghoul:Re is described as "the birth of a Legend" as opposed to a Tragedy and gives him a second chance as Amnesiac Hero Haise Sasaki.
  • Fate/Zero doesn't have complete closure due to being a prequel to the earlier Fate/stay night (which does provide a proper conclusion to the consequences of Zero), but is a spectacular tragedy in and of itself, and one that fans of the Nasuverse know didn't end well. It is filled to the brim with Grey-and-Grey Morality, with the Masters either being in the fight for at least arguably selfish reasons (Tokiomi, Kayneth, Waver, Kirei), have genuinely good intentions but will do incredibly questionable things to achieve their goals (Kiritsugu, Kariya) or are just plain evil (Ryuunosuke, Kirei later on). The Servants either have little choice in the whole matter or are no better than the Masters. And by the end, it gets ugly. The only Master who doesn't end up dead, in despair or evil at the end is the one who actually grew positively as a person. That person is Waver, who managed to get away with a happy ending. The only other two masters who survive are Kiritsugu, who is arguably the main human protagonist, and Kirei, who ends up being the end villain alongside Gilgamesh. Ryuunosuke is shot dead, Kayneth is also shot dead alongside his fiancee (even after sacrificing his own Servant for their lives), Tokiomi is stabbed in the back by Kirei, and despite his best efforts, poor Kariya also dies, only deepening Sakura's despair. Kiritsugu, despite surviving, ends up a broken man as all his sacrifices end up being for nothing, and his dream forever out of his reach. The only silver lining is Shirou Emiya being saved from the fire by Kiritsugu, and later vowing to take up his adoptive father's dream of becoming a hero. That silver lining is the direct catalyst for its sequel bringing the tragedy to its final closure in the sequel.

    Comic Books 
  • Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is a five-year tragedy, carefully crafted in the Greek tradition of Tragedy, about a mythical god-king trying to fix the mistakes of his past but unable to change the rigidity that caused those mistakes to begin with so he kills himself to allow a new god-king to rule.
  • Alejandro Jodorowsky's seminal The Metabarons.

    Fan Works 

  • The Star Wars prequel trilogy, particularly Episode III Revenge of the Sith is a modern mainstream example. In Episode I Anakin Skywalker's potential is identified as a young age, and it is speculated he may be The Chosen One who will bring balance to the force. However, Yoda also foresees Anakin's fatal flaw, which is that he dreads and will do anything to prevent losing those he loves no matter what the consequences. This is first evident in Episode II with his premonition of his mother's death. Then in Episode III they stronger when he has nightmares of his wife Padmé dying. Anakin turns to The Dark Side out of desperation to change the fate that Yoda counsels him he cannot avoid, but by destroying everything he ever loved with his own hands he makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    • As a whole, the entire Star Wars saga (the prequel trilogy, original trilogy, and new trilogy) is an epic generational tragedy, at least in regards to the Skywalker family. The prequels have Anakin Skywalker start out as a promising young Jedi Knight (as well The Chosen One), who eventually turns to the Dark Side due to his fear of losing Padme, his growing discontent with the Jedi Council, and his manipulation at the hands of Palpatine/Darth Sideous. He dismantles the Jedi Order and ushers in an era of darkness and tyranny throughout the entire galaxy by helping Darth Sideous form the Empire. The original trilogy revolves around his son Luke Skywalker defeating said Empire and redeeming him shortly before his death. In the sequel trilogy it's revealed that Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo, the son of Anakin's daughter Leia Organa and Han Solo, and that much like his grandfather Anakin, he trained as a Jedi but eventually fell victim to the Dark Side and helped establish the First Order, a dictatorship much like the Empire. Ben is partially driven by a desire to live up to the dark legacy his grandfather left behind, and a desire to prove himself to his master Supreme Leader Snoke by severing all remaining emotional ties, including his parents. Despite this, there is still some remaining light inside of him, as seen by the guilt he feels after killing his father, and his inability to go through with killing his mother. Luke Skywalker tried and failed to bring back the Jedi Order after the events of the original trilogy, and exiles himself to a distant island, having lost all hope after his nephew and former student Ben Solo pulled a Face–Heel Turn and murdered half of his students while taking the rest with him. Ben's Face–Heel Turn officially started when Luke, in a moment of weakness, contemplated killing him once he realized just how great his potential for evil was. By the end of Episode VIII, Luke passes away while gazing peacefully at a twilight sky with two moons, using the last of his strength to buy time for the Resistance (led by his sister Leia) and confront Kylo Ren. In Episode IX, Leia and Ben Solo die .
    • Rogue One tells the tragedy of the Erso family. The story begins with the Empire finding research scientist Galen Erso and his family after they've gone into hiding, killing his wife Lyra and forcing him to complete the world-destroying Death Star. His daughter Jyn Erso manages to escape, and spends most of her life on the streets as a criminal, but is recruited by the Rebel Alliance in it's early stages to retrieve the Death Star plans. Galen makes up for his part in building the Death Star, and Jyn helps secure a victory instrumental in getting a leg up on the Empire, but she and her father end up dying by film's end, marking the end of the Erso line as a whole, and it doesn't stop the Empire from destroying at least one planet later down the line. Making it even worse is that both deaths are a demonstration of cruel irony. Galen is wounded by an attack from the Rebel Alliance, who he's been working to protect this whole time, and Jyn is vaporized by the Death Star, the very weapon her father was forced to make, and he only did it so the Empire wouldn't hurt her. The film is also a tragedy in a more general sense in that all the main protagonists are dead by the end of it, having sacrificed their lives for the good of the galaxy. Though their sacrifices are the catalyst for Episode IV, and their deaths are a Foregone Conclusion, so it's a Bittersweet Ending with particular emphasis on the bitter.
  • Akira Kurosawa's film Ran, being King Lear IN SENGOKU-ERA JAPAN!, does tragedy to a T.
  • In Requiem for a Dream, all of the main characters succumb to their addictions. Harry's arm is infected by repeated use of the needle and he has to have it amputated, Tyrone gets thrown in jail for dealing drugs, Marion becomes a crack whore to support her drug habit and Sara gets reduced to a living wreck due to the combined effect of the weight-loss drugs and the electroshock therapy administered to kick the habit.
  • American History X seems to avert this until the literal Chekhov's Gunman returns.
  • The Godfather saga is another example of classical mafia tragedy. Michael Corleone's ruthlessness and vengeful ways eventually lead to his alienation from his family and his ultimate ruin.
  • Similarly to the film above, Scarface (1983) stars Al Pacino as a ruthless, albeit sympathetic gangster, whose own flaws eventually lead to the destruction of his criminal empire and everyone he ever cared about ending up either dead or hating his guts, as well as his own death at the hands of someone he screwed over.
  • Godzilla is a tragedy in a form of a Kaiju Horror film. While it does focus on the tragedy of the human characters, alas, Godzilla himself is revealed to be a Tragic Monster, having his powers given to him by circumstances beyond his control. And he and The Hero die at the very end.
  • Chronicle fits the tragic mold almost exactly, as it is the protagonist's hostility and hubris that leads to his downfall and death.
  • Chinatown While technically Neo-Noir is known for its tragic endings, it's all Jake Gittes' fault, for trying to do the right thing.
  • The central character of Citizen Kane ends up dying alone and unloved thanks to his narcissism.
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  • The fifth Hellraiser movie Hellraiser: Inferno is one of the few examples crossing over with Horror. Fundamentally it is the story of a man who receives unimaginable punishment due to his own sins and his abuse of everyone around him.
  • The French films Jean de Florette and it's sequel Manon des Sources.
  • One Hour Photo
  • Lawrence of Arabia: The first half of the movie is a towering epic, filled with stunning desert shots and the heroism of T. E. Lawrence, a man who can do the impossible and for whom nothing is written! The second half shows Lawrence's ego and overconfidence costing him everything but his life.
  • The Fly (1986) follows a brilliant, reclusive scientist who has invented teleportation technology and, upon entering the first romantic relationship of his life with a beautiful journalist, is able to perfect it. But his obsessive passions for both his work and his lover lead to a Tragic Mistake — when he mistakenly believes he is being cuckolded, he gets drunk and teleports himself, accidentally genetically merging himself with a housefly in the process. Initially the Slow Transformation that results leaves him Drunk with Power, but with time he inexorably loses everything that makes him human, becoming an instinctual, desire-driven monster who is a danger to his lover most of all, and who ends up merged with his own teleportation device and has to ask her to slay him.

  • Ian McEwan's Atonement follows a privileged upper class preteen called Briony Tallis. She essentially ruins several people's lives because of her arrogance and ignorance. Years later, when she finally realizes the full extent of what she's done, it's too late to make amends or fix her mistakes, because the affected parties have died partly due to her actions.
  • Bel Canto follows a hostage crisis, and lots of sympathetically portrayed Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome even as it is made clear that it will inevitably end in the deaths of most to all of the highly sympathetic hostage takers and perhaps some of the hostages as well.
  • Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is a textbook example: Half of Túrin's problems come from him being impulsive, letting his anger cloud his judgement, and his unwillingness to swallow his pride and listen to advice. The other half comes from Morgoth himself being out to get him. In the end, all of Túrin's plans fail, he ends up either killing or leading all his friends to his deaths, and finally kills himself, having achieved nothing but destruction.
  • Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart was imagined from the very beginning as a classical tragedy. The hero, Okonkwo, is a strong and prosperous man in his Igbo village, with big fields of big yams and a big, well-maintained compound and three wives. He is very proud of his achievements and of his manliness—but his manliness and pride cause him to act rashly, eventually getting him exiled for manslaughter (when his Firing in the Air a Lot kills someone), lead his son to abandon him and all the Good Old Ways he stood for, and ultimately causes his suicide.
  • Several of Thomas Hardy's novels are borderline examples, but The Mayor of Casterbridge unquestionably qualifies, to the extent that it's been read as a reworking of Aristotle's principles in nineteenth-century rural England. The novel begins with Michael Henchard selling his wife and child in a drunken rage, after which he gives up drinking and manages to turn his life around for a few years. Ultimately, though, his pride and quick temper cause him to lose everyone he cares about, and he dies alone.
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie qualifies when the events are arranged chronologically (the stage and film adaptations change things to a more linear structure). The protagonist is a respected teacher at a conservative school with her own special club of girls she motivates. Although the headmistress tries to dismiss her, Jean Brodie is almost untouchable. She also has two men pining after her. But, due to her own arrogance and desire to teach what she wants, she ends up wrecking her students' lives - she grooms one girl to have an affair with a teacher, one ends up running off to Spain and dying in the Civil War, and another eventually dies in a fire because she's too emotionally stunted from the bullying she received. Jean's faithful pupil Sandy eventually betrays her and she ends up dismissed, and her two suitors end up with other women - fed up of her mind games.
  • The Arts of Dark and Light follows what appears to be the downfall of the once great Amorran Republic, and certainly that of one of its foremost champions, General Sextus Valerius Corvus, as he struggles to preserve it.

    Live-Action TV 

  • WASP's rock opera The Crimson Idol qualifies due to the protagonist's desire to return to his parents' good graces - after they heartlessly disowned him - leads to a long trail of self-destruction fueled by drugs and hollow fame, culminating in his suicide.

  • William Shakespeare wrote quite a few: Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Titus Andronicus (just to name a few). Romeo and Juliet, though commonly labeled as one, isn't actually a tragedy per se, as the ultimate unhappy ending comes as a result of bad luck. It is often classified a tragicomedy or a problem play, because, while it has a tragic conclusion and the title characters' youthful impulsiveness contributes to their demise, it more closely follows the comedic form.
  • A textbook classical tragedy would be Oedipus the King. The hero, Oedipus (of the famous complex, though he does not necessarily possess it), is a heroicnote  and generally admirable man who ruled Thebes wisely. However, it is struck by a strange drought that no one can explain. Sages say that since the land and king are one, the king has done something to poison the land, and only he can ferret out that mistake. Despite warnings from sages and wise men that Oedipus won't like what he discovers, he learns that the previous king heard a prophecy that his son would kill him and marry his mother, so the king had his son bound and abandoned in a forest and he went into hiding to avoid being killed. However, the son survived and killed him unrecognized for cutting him off in traffic, and afterward killed the Sphinx (of the riddles) and was rewarded with the kingship of Thebes, including the widowed queen. ... Yep. His mother-wife commits suicide in shame, and he blinds himself in sorrow.
    • Antigone: The children of Oedipus and Jocaste didn't fare much better.
  • The Oresteia, a dramatic trilogy by Aeschylus, consisting of Agamemnon, Choephoroi and Eumenides) and Electra are classic (indeed quite literally) tragedies. The theme of fatal flaws and dramatic irony is applied to heroic men, such as Agamemnon and Orestes, but also to the house of Atreus as a whole. Apparently the Oresteia is also one of the first examples of Nightmare Fuel as during the premiere of the play the haunting song of the furies caused a pregnant woman to promptly miscarry and die in the process. One could probably write a tragedy about that too.
  • Many classical revenge stories, such as the above-mentioned Hamlet, were tragedies. The avenger usually succeeded in destroying the villain responsible for whatever awful crime set him on his vendetta, but he all too often destroyed himself and/or everything he cared about in the process. See also the Nietzschean concept of "He Who Fights Monsters".
  • In recent hindsight, Little Shop of Horrors also qualifies due to having several motifs of the Greek tragedy archetype - the singers Crystal, Chiffon, and Ornette representing the classic Greek chorus, and Seymour's arc mirrors that of several tragic Greek protagonists - to achieve his dreams, he first sacrifices his enemy Orin Scrivello), then his father figure (Mr. Mushnik), then his love (Audrey) - and finally, when everything starts crashing down around him, himself.
  • Moira is what happens when Sound Horizon decides that classical Greek tragedy would make for one hell of a Symphonic Metal Rock Opera.
  • Miss Saigon, a Setting Update of Puccini's Madame Butterfly; most of his other works were tragic as well.
  • Neil LaBute's Bash is a Setting Update of three Greek tragedies, examining how everyday people are capable of committing great evil just to save themselves.
  • Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedy of Mariam ends with the death of the title character at the hands of her impulsive and jealous husband.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 is marinated in this, particularly as the Horus Heresy became more fleshed-out. The setting's gradual in-universe descent into the shitter is punctuated with people making bad decisions based on their flaws that end up coming back to bite them catastrophically, usually with the assistance of one of the setting's fascinating variety of evil gods.
    • The Necrontyr's resentment of the Old Ones' longer lifespans was used by the C'tan to trick the Necrontyr into becoming the zombie-robot Necrons.
    • The Eldar empire descended into excess and wouldn't back away despite warnings, leading to it basically orgying a Chaos God into existence and turning the heart of the Eldar empire into the Eye of Terror.
    • The Horus Heresy saw a lot of mini-tragedies as half the Primarchs succumbed to their failings and fell to Chaos, all set against the backdrop of one big tragedy as the Emperor's egotism and separation for humanity led him to alienate the nine sons who would turn on him and eventually kill him.
      • In particular, Magnus the Red is portrayed as having gone through an arc not too dissimilar from a classical tragedy: his arrogance led to him assuming he knew better than everyone else about the Warp and how to use it, starting a chain of events that ended with Magnus' desiccated homeworld burned to black glass and a significant chunk of his Legion killed in the engagement.
    • One of the most tragic ones: The Emperor was a militant atheist and crushed all religion in his empire in the mistaken belief that this would starve the Chaos gods of power. In fact it's not belief that keeps Chaos strong (faith in the Emperor is one of the more potent weapons against daemons) but emotion, the only way to wipe it out would be to suppress rage, desire (see "orgying a god into existence", above), hope and love in all sentients in the galaxy (something only the Necrons have tried, through very direct methods).

    Video Games 
  • Mafia II follows two best friends who join the mob and get involved in the criminal underworld.
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the story of a Byronic Hero fated to go down to the path of darkness, only trying to save his childhood sweetheart from death and never succeeding - and his offsprings, fated to fight against him himself.
  • God of War has tragic elements, at least in Kratos' backstory.
  • While Fate/stay night isn't itself a tragedy like its prequel mentioned above, many of the heroic spirits have a backstory in their previous life that definitely falls into this category.
    • Archer's entire backstory is just one big tragedy, having once been the incredibly idealistic protagonist before his ideals betrayed him.
    • Saber's backstory mirrors many of the same failures as Archers, but in a different context. Whereas Archer dedicated too much of his life trying to be the ideal hero of his dreams that saves everybody, Saber, during her life as King Arthur, dedicated too much of her life into trying to be the perfect ruler. To her, this meant that she should abandon all emotions and that she shouldn't even be considered a human because she saw these characteristics as hindrance to her rule. In the end, she accomplished her goal of being the perfect ruler, but she completely failed as a human being and her subjects rebelled against her not because she was a tyrant, but because nobody wanted to follow someone as emotionless and inhuman as her. Saber spends large part of the Fate route convinced that she was a poor ruler and wishing that she could remove herself from power in the past by using the power of the grail. However after spending time with Shirou, Saber ultimately comes to understand that nobody could have ruled the country better than she did and it was doomed from the start.
  • Spec Ops: The Line is a classic tragedy, and it stands out due to drawing comparisons between the protagonist and the player as the story unfolds.

    Web Originals 


    Anime and Manga 
  • Princess Tutu is postmodern in nature, but none of the characters are familiar with postmodernist conventions, instead believing that they're living through a classic tragedy. Much of the story's conflict comes from characters trying to find ways to fulfill their goals without making the same mistakes that normally doom tragic heroes (or, in a few cases, giving up on goals that would lead to an unhappy ending.)

  • Hard Core Logo is a variation on the Greek tragic formula, disguised as a Black Comedy and set in the Canadian punk scene rather than among the social elite. Joe Dick's arc fits the tragic hero model best, but really, the band is such a Dysfunction Junction that it's hard to pin the ensuing trainwreck on any single member's single major character flaw.

  • Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Despite their flashes of Genre Savvy and occasional (dark) comedy, the ending features a complete lack of awareness on the character's part. The futility of their project is laid bare, they die accomplishing nothing except discover their names (and that's still iffy). The downfall being external (but necessary). The minor status of the protagonists to "incidental" characters like Hamlet.
  • Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, as well as Measures Taken. Catharsis is withheld in order to demand revolutionary action from the audience.
  • Waiting for Godot is a low and existential tragedy.
  • Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is a middle-class indebted salesman who delusionally believes that the right attitude and personality can spell success. This leads to disaster in his life and the lives of his children, especially Biff, and Willy Loman is never able to understand the cause of his misfortune and dies unaware. Miller subverts a classical tragedy by making a middle class man the subject of his play and making the protagonist never understand reality because of his blind spot at any point which ultimately leads to his death. By his own admission, Miller didn't really make the subversion of tragedy work out, as Loman is kind of a pathetic figure.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: