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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The term she-tragedy refers to a vogue in the late 17th and early 18th centuries for tragic plays focused on the sufferings of an innocent and virtuous woman. Prominent she-tragedies include Thomas Otway's The Orphan (1680), John Banks' Virtue Betrayed, or, Anna Bullen (1682), Thomas Southerne's The Fatal Marriage (1694) and Nicholas Rowe's The Fair Penitent (1703) and Lady Jane Grey (1715). Rowe was the first to use the term "she-tragedy," in 1714.

When English drama was reborn in 1660 with the re-opening of the theatres, the leading tragic style was the male-dominated heroic drama which celebrated powerful, aggressively masculine heroes and their pursuit of glory, as rulers and conquerors as well as lovers. In the 1670s and 1680s, a gradual shift occurred from heroic to pathetic tragedy, where the subject was love and domestic concerns, even though the main characters might be public figures. After the phenomenal success of Elizabeth Barry in moving the audience to tears in the role of Monimia in Otway's The Orphan, she-tragedy became the dominant form of pathetic tragedy and remained highly popular for nearly half a century.

The new focus on women in tragedy may be linked with a growing political disillusion with the old aristocratic ideology and its traditional masculine ideals (see Staves). Other possible explanations for the great interest in she-tragedy are the popularity of Mary II, who often ruled alone in the 1690s while her husband William III was on the Continent, and the publication of The Spectator, the first periodical aimed at women. Elizabeth Howe has argued that the most important explanation for the shift in taste was the emergence of tragic actresses whose popularity made it unavoidable for dramatists to create major roles for them. With the conjunction of the playwright "master of pathos" Thomas Otway and the great tragedienne Elizabeth Barry in The Orphan, the focus shifted decisively from hero to heroine.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "She-tragedy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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