A View from the Bridge’ by Arthur Miller is a play describing the affairs of the Brooklyn dockworkers of post war America. The play is as colourful as the lives of those it depicts: it contains aspects of love, hatred, passion, suffering, pain and despair (to name but a few) but what of tragedy? In order for a play to be a ‘tragedy’ it follows that it must have tragic elements to its plot… but what are these elements? Why are they considered tragic?
And most importantly of all: In what from are they present in ‘A View from the Bridge’? Answering this question requires that we obtain a sound definition of ‘tragedy’ in the classic sense, and for this task I refer throughout to Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’. Over the next few pages I will be examining the main events and aspects of the play, showing how explicitly they follow the principles outlined by Aristotle, therefore earning the ‘tragic’ title.
Foremost in a tragedy is the protagonist; he is the hub around which the events of the play rotate, without whom all would soon crumble. In classic tragedy the protagonist is usually distinguished early in the play: the protagonist in ‘A View from the Bridge’ is established from the outset. An early stage direction sees Eddie ‘pitching coins with the men and is highlighted among them’ this and Eddie’s prominence in the following family scene firmly establish his role as the lead character.
Once this entity has been confirmed we must then examine his character. In the first family scene Eddie is shown to command the love and respect of both his wife and niece: Beatrice claims that he is ‘an Angel!’ and that ‘God’ll bless him’ and Catherine greets him enthusiastically ‘Hi, Eddie!’ This show of love has the effect of portraying Eddie Carbone in a favourable light and raising the audience’s opinion of him. This was a deliberate effort on Miller’s part to satisfy one of Aristotle’s necessities for tragedy, that the lead role should ’embody nobility and virtue as part of his/her innate character’. Initial nobility and virtue serve to accentuate the eventual demise of the character and heighten the sense of loss felt by the audience.
The family love of the opening scene, while serving a purpose, is notably ordinary and not at all unusual. At first glance Eddie Carbone seems a surprisingly normal figure ‘He is forty- a husky, slightly overweight longshoreman’. This normality however serves a very important purpose, it allows the audience to identify with the character, a necessity for the tragic hero since he has to command sympathy, pity, and later invoke fear. Another tragic requirement is that the lead character must have a certain flaw, or imperfection, known as hamartia which serves to trigger the character’s demise. This is present in ‘A View from the Bridge’ and is subtly exposed in the first scene when ‘Eddie is pleased and therefore shy about it’ when Catherine lovingly greets him. The first family scene can therefore be described as tragic because it complies with tragic ideals, and establishes both the character of the protagonist and his fatal flaw: two essentials of tragedy.
Following this scene I was aware of the potential for catastrophe (in Eddie’s incestuous love, and over protectiveness) but was at a loss as to how this potential was to be realised. This invoked in me as the reader or as a member of the audience a sense of or intense anticipation and anxiety: anticipation because the catastrophic ending was foretold in Alfieri’s warnings and anxiety because I did not know what form this catastrophe would take.
My anxiety was relieved upon the arrival of the immigrants, when I realised the means by which the potential was to be realised. As the scene progresses Catherine’s attraction to Rodolpho is made apparent. Catherine ‘wondrously’ asks Rodolpho about his hair, and is ‘enthralled’ by his singing; she asks if he is married and references to sugar ‘you like sugar? -Sugar? Yes! I like sugar very much!’ imply that they are ‘sweet’ on each other. This affection unnerves Eddie, who, upon hearing Rodolpho’s rendition of ‘Paper Doll’ interrupts as soon as flirtation is mentioned… ‘and then those flirty, flirty guys…Will have to flirt with dollies that are real’. This scene, while not satisfying any tragic ideas wholly in itself, helps with the progression of the tragedy since it develops the fatal flaw, Eddie’s love for Catherine. It also informs the audience of the course the play is to take, accentuating the sense of fate or inevitable progression.