Quote of the Day: Do the Good End Unluckily? (Great Plays and Philosophy, Part 2)


“The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.” — Chief Actor in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard:

Oscar Wilde had one of his characters say, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” That’s how Wilde plays with Plato.

And Tom Stoppard? He’s playing with Aristotle! And with Oscar Wilde. It’s a brilliant line!

In Aristotle’s description of how tragedy works in the Poetics, the bad are never allowed to get happier, and the tragic hero is better than ordinary people, but he still has to end badly. His downfall happens, in part, because of his own tragic flaw–some hamartia, some missing of the mark, some character flaw or error in judgment often involving hubris. But his downfall is not entirely his fault. It’s because of his relatively small flaw plus the unfortunate circumstances that cause his doom.

But they do cause it, and it’s not so much a matter of luck as a matter of previously unknown cause-and-effect. But, then again, what else is luck but causes unknown to us? (See Aristotle’s Physics, Book II, on that!)

And how–unnecessary spoiler alert!–do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die?  Do they die unhappily or unluckilyWikipedia calls Stoppard’s version of their story a tragicomedy, and no surprise there: The whole story is contained within the tragedy of Hamlet, and the main characters die, but it’s also pretty hilarious.

Their deaths are sort of unhappy, and sort of unlucky.

And they aren’t exactly serial murderers themselves, but I wouldn’t exactly call them good either!

And what are you supposed to do with this information? The answer is like my interpretation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: I don’t know what to do with it, but I enjoy it.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Here’s a high-quality jpeg made with amazing computer skills using Microsoft Paint.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher

    It’s a great play. I read my aunt’s copy when I was in high school.

    The diagram needs some work.

    • #2
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    So I actually got to teach “Great Plays and Philosophy” last semester. Just finished recording a long video for YouTube and Rumble on Hamlet.

    I’m tired, and it’s a good tired.

    • #4
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