Quotations about   tragedy

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What Mr. Howells said of the American theater is true of the whole American attitude toward life. “A tragedy with a happy ending” is exactly what the child wants before he goes to sleep: the reassurance that “all’s well with the world” as he lies in his cozy nursery. It is a good thing that the child should receive this reassurance; but as long as he needs it he remains a child, and the world he lives in is a nursery-world. Things are not always and everywhere well with the world, and each man has to find it out as he grows up. It is the finding out that makes him grow, and until he has faced the fact and digested the lesson he is not grown up — he is still in the nursery.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) American novelist
French Ways and Their Meaning, ch. 4 “Intellectual Honesty” (1919)
    (Source)

Commenting on William Dean Howells' comment to her on American taste in theater and drama: "What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending."
Added on 10-Apr-19 | Last updated 10-Apr-19
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I have changed my definition of tragedy. I now think tragedy is not foul deeds done to a person (usually noble in some manner) but rather that tragedy is irresolvable conflict. Both sides/ideas are right.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 3 “The Work,” “Plot” (1989)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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The tragedy of life is not that man loses, but that he almost wins.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
“Sport for Art’s Sake,” Vanity Fair (Sep 1921)
    (Source)

Reprinted in Pieces of Hate, and Other Enthusiasms (1922).
Added on 31-May-17 | Last updated 31-May-17
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She smoothed her hair back from her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like she always looked. It was probably a truth about tragedy, she thought, while the tragedy is going on people look pretty much the way they looked when it wasn’t.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Thin Air (1995)
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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“It’s not funny.”

“No, it isn’t, no more than everything else. Laughing is better than crying, though. When you can.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Promised Land (1976)
Added on 22-Feb-17 | Last updated 22-Feb-17
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There is a difference between tragedy and blind brutal calamity. Tragedy has meaning, and there is dignity in it. Tragedy stands with its shoulders stiff and proud. But there is no meaning, no dignity, no fulfillment, in the death of a child.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
“The Will” (1953)
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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I am weary of reading Newspapers. The Times are so full of Events, the whole Drama of the World is such a Tragedy that I am weary of the Spectacle.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (27 Feb 1793)
Added on 4-Jan-17 | Last updated 4-Jan-17
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Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

allen-tragedy-plus-time-equals-comedy-wist_info

Steve Allen (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
“Steve Allen’s Almanac,” Cosmopolitan (Feb 1957)

Similar formulations have been made by Carol Burnett, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen. For more discussion see here.
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, ch. 1. (1852) [tr. Padover]
    (Source)

Often paraphrased: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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The pleasure arising from an extraordinary agitation of the mind is frequently so great as to stifle humanity; hence arises the entertainment of the common people at executions, and of the better sort at tragedies.

Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765-1848) French Catholic missionary in India [Abbe J. A. Dubois]
(Attributed)
Added on 22-Feb-16 | Last updated 22-Feb-16
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The man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news.

[Wer jetzt noch lacht, hat die neuesten Nachrichten noch nicht gehört.]

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“To Those Born Later,” Svendborg Poems (1939)

Alt. trans.: "He who laughs last has not yet heard the bad news."
Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 17-Dec-15
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If you ask any police officer what the worst part of the job is, they will always say breaking bad news to relatives, but this is not the truth. The worst part is staying in the room after you’ve broken the news, so that you’re forced to be there when someone’s life disintegrates around them. Some people say it doesn’t bother them — such people are not to be trusted.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Rivers of London [Midnight Riot] (2011)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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Harder to laugh at the comedy if it’s about you, harder to cry at the tragedy if it isn’t.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
Added on 18-Sep-15 | Last updated 18-Sep-15
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If Afflictions refine some, they consume others.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2666 (1732)
Added on 18-Nov-14 | Last updated 18-Nov-14
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Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) American writer [Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald]
“The Notebooks” (E), The Crack-Up [ed. Edmund Wilson (1945)]
Added on 15-Apr-08 | Last updated 4-Sep-15
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Humor is just another defense against the universe.

Mel Brooks (b. 1926) American comedic actor, writer, producer [b. Melvyn Kaminsky]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Jul-16
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A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.

Josef Stalin (1879-1953) Soviet political leader
(Attributed)

Alternate versions:
  • "Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic."
  • "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic."
  • "When one dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic."
  • "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."
The actual quote (such as is supported) appears to be "When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics." It is found in David McCullough, Truman (1992), said by Stalin to Churchill in Tehran when the latter was concerned over the potential casualties of opening a second front in France prematurely. McCullough cites it to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: Portrait of Tyranny (1981).

On the other hand, Mary Soames (Churchill's daughter) said in a BBC interview with Andrew Marr (11 Nov 2011) that she overhead Stalin say this to her father at Potsdam, when Churchill was upset over the death of a family friend and then apologized to Stalin given the high number of Russian war casualties.

The earliest mention of the quote and Stalin is a 28 Sep 1958 book review.

Compare to Erich Maria Remarque, Der schwarze Obelisk (1956): "Sonderbar, denke ich, wir alle haben doch so viele Tote im Kriege gesehen, und wir wissen, daß über zwei Millionen von uns nutzlos gefallen sind — warum sind wir da so erregt wegen eines einzelnen, und die zwei Millionen haben wir schon fast vergessen? Aber das ist wohl so, weil ein einzelner immer der Tod ist — und zwei Millionen immer nur eine Statistik." [Strangely, I think we all have seen so many dead in the war, and we know that more than two million of us are unvalued -- why we are so excited because of an individual, and we have two million almost forgotten already? But that is probably so because a single death is always a death -- and two million only a statistic.]

Also compare to a 1932 essay on French humor by Kurt Tucholsky, German journalist, pacifist, and satirist. He wrote of a diplomat in the French Ministry of Foreign affairs, who said: "The war? I cannot find it to be so bad! The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!"
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Letter (16 Aug 1776)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy:
The wide and universal theater
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 2, sc. 7, l. 136 (1599)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-May-16
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