When you hear the word catastrophe, you think of a sudden, tragic event that causes a great change. This is one definition of catastrophe, and events such has a hurricane, a major accident, or a death are considered catastrophes.
The literary definition of catastrophe is slightly different. While a catastrophe in literature is often an event that causes great change, it is not always synonymous with a tragic event. In literature, catastrophe is the same thing as denoument, or resolution. The catastrophe is the resolution of the narrative plot.
In a tragedy, the catastrophe is often tragic-the death of a major character or other unhappy fate. In a comedy, the catastrophe is often a major event that is not tragic-the marriage of two characters, for example.
A simple catastrophe occurs when the major change is outside of the characters-an event in the plot that causes major change. A complex catastrophe occurs when the change is within the character-often the protagonist-and is more of a character change rather than a change brought about by outside events.
Examples of Catastrophe from Literature
The catastrophe in Shakespeare's Macbeth occurs when Macduff kills Macbeth. Macbeth believes he cannot be killed because of the witches' prophecy that no one born of woman will kill him. However, Macduff reveals that he was not actually born of woman (born by Caesarian).
Macbeth: Thou losest labour:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress as make me
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.
Macduff: Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
The catastrophe in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet occurs with the deaths of the two lovers. Through many plot twists and turns, Romeo poisons himself when he thinks Juliet is dead. When Juliet wakes up and sees Romeo dead, she stabs herself. These lines are Juliet's words when she sees that Romeo has died:
Go get thee hence, for I will not away.
What's here? A cup clos'd in my true love's hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end.
O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips,
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make me die with a restorative.
Thy lips are warm.
Literary Terms Examples