This essay addresses the rather complex questions of the history and function of the word tragedy: Is there a historically and logically consistent use of the word that can serve as a constant in discussions of both drama and dramatic theory? I will try to address some of the reasons why questioning the historical uses and transformations of the word tragedy and the notion of the “tragic” may be important today. Such an effort matters not just for theater critics or historians but also for anyone who wishes to discover the active links between these normative generic concepts and their lived context, including their use value in the social and ideological framing of “life” in society or across societies. In times of cultural or intercultural conflict, including our own, the process of defining a theatrical genre can even become a tool, a weapon almost, in defining interpersonal value and human meaning as such.

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