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[traj-i-dee] /ˈtrædʒ ɪ di/
noun, plural tragedies.
a lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; calamity; disaster:
stunned by the tragedy of so many deaths.
a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically involving a great person destined to experience downfall or utter destruction, as through a character flaw or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or an unyielding society.
the branch of the drama that is concerned with this form of composition.
the art and theory of writing and producing tragedies.
any literary composition, as a novel, dealing with a somber theme carried to a tragic or disastrous conclusion.
the tragic or mournful or calamitous element of drama, of literature generally, or of life.
Origin of tragedy
1325-75; Middle English tragedie < Medieval Latin tragēdia, Latin tragoedia < Greek tragōidía, equivalent to trág(os) goat + ōidḗ song (see ode) + -ia -y3; reason for name variously explained
Related forms
nontragedy, noun, plural nontragedies.
protragedy, adjective
supertragedy, noun, plural supertragedies. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tragedy
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is their virtue in life to be lonely, and none but the lonely man in tragedy may be great.

    Riders to the Sea J. M. Synge
  • It was Demarest who gave an official touch to the tragedy of the moment.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • He had no suspicion as to the tragedy that lay between him and her.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • In the first second of the tragedy, Dick had not understood.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • Reginald's escape had rather knocked the tragedy out of the evening.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
British Dictionary definitions for tragedy


noun (pl) -dies
(esp in classical and Renaissance drama) a play in which the protagonist, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal
(in later drama, such as that of Ibsen) a play in which the protagonist is overcome by a combination of social and psychological circumstances
any dramatic or literary composition dealing with serious or sombre themes and ending with disaster
(in medieval literature) a literary work in which a great person falls from prosperity to disaster, often through no fault of his own
the branch of drama dealing with such themes
the unfortunate aspect of something
a shocking or sad event; disaster
Compare comedy
Word Origin
C14: from Old French tragédie, from Latin tragoedia, from Greek tragōidia, from tragos goat + ōidē song; perhaps a reference to the goat-satyrs of Peloponnesian plays
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for tragedy

late 14c., "play or other serious literary work with an unhappy ending," from Old French tragedie (14c.), from Latin tragedia "a tragedy," from Greek tragodia "a dramatic poem or play in formal language and having an unhappy resolution," apparently literally "goat song," from tragos "goat" + oide "song." The connection may be via satyric drama, from which tragedy later developed, in which actors or singers were dressed in goatskins to represent satyrs. But many other theories have been made (including "singer who competes for a goat as a prize"), and even the "goat" connection is at times questioned. Meaning "any unhappy event, disaster" is from c.1500.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tragedy in Culture

tragedy definition

A serious drama in which a central character, the protagonist — usually an important, heroic person — meets with disaster either through some personal fault or through unavoidable circumstances. In most cases, the protagonist's downfall conveys a sense of human dignity in the face of great conflict. Tragedy originated in ancient Greece in the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. In modern times, it achieved excellence with William Shakespeare in such works as Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello. Twentieth-century tragedies include Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, and Murder in the Cathedral, by T. S. Eliot.

Note: Aristotle argued that the proper effect of tragedy is catharsis — the purging of the emotions.
Note: In common usage, disasters of many kinds are called tragedies.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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