The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Domestic tragedy: A type of tragedy, a play concerning an ordinary person facing a domestic disaster. Domestic tragedy differs from traditional classical and Renaissance tragedies, which depicted a high-born hero facing an extraordinary challenge and falling from a great height. The genre is sometimes called bourgeois tragedy, although this term is a misnomer, because the protagonist can come from the lower as well as middle class.
Domestic tragedy emerged during the Renaissance Period in English literature, particularly the Elizabethan and Jacobean Ages, with dramas written in verse such as the anonymous Arden of Faversham (1592); Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603); and A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608), likely written by Thomas Middleton. It was later developed by eighteenth-century writers, most notably George Lillo, an English dramatist whose play The London Merchant (1731) was written in prose and concerned the seduction, exploitation, and moral destruction of a naive young man by a greedy prostitute. Domestic tragedies of the period exhibited considerable sentimentalism, playing on the emotions of pity and sympathy to a degree that modern audiences find excessive. Nonetheless, the basic vision of domestic tragedy — the painful, unsuccessful struggle of common people against the vicissitudes of daily domestic or social situations — persisted well into the twentieth century.
FURTHER EXAMPLES: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1897); Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1939); Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1944); Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1948), featuring antihero Willy Loman, whose name reflects both his social class and personal situation.