When one thinks of tragedy, the first thing that comes to mind is an event causing sadness. However, from a literary stance, it may evoke a much different response. First and foremost, the presence of the tragedy is first recorded in Greek literature. Though we estimate the number of these pieces in the thousands, only 32 have been recovered in their entirety. From documentation of the artistic traditions of the time, we know how a tragedy was meant to effect the audience. The original Greek tragedy was indeed based on human suffering. Yet, the response received was one of catharsis, or purging of negative emotions. The audience was meant to feel great pleasure at the downfall of their protagonist. It seems odd and against expectation, since we as humans feel empathy when presented with a real undoing. However, in a dramatic setting, watching such an event unfold can bring a new sense of appreciation toward one's own life. The audience will feel relieved that they are not the protagonist. They will leave content with their station in life.
As such, tragedy is an impactful development in literary tradition. Learning can be done from the mistakes made by the protagonist. In the modern age, tragedies act as a window into the issues deemed important in the age they were written. Sophocles uses prophecy, Shakespeare uses love. Both reflect what problems may have been the most immediate for the time. It stands apart from the commercial sob story in that there is a power, and almost optimism, in a true tragedy. It teaches you, it reminds you of your good fortune. Without it, literature would be unable to capture real issues, greatly decreasing its value to those reading it. Even its counterpart, comedy, needs tragedy for balance.