"Rocky Horror" as tragedy
by Jerry R. Blevins

Upon close examination, "Rocky Horror" (both the play and the movie) is
structured a lot like a classical Greek tragedy, with elements of the
Shakespearean tragedy.  Like the Greek tragedy, we have a formal prolouge
and epilogue ("SFDF" and "SFDF [Reprise]").  The story follows the unity
prescribed by Aristotle in his "Poetics."  The setting of the story is
unified: one brief scene at the church, with the rest set in and around
the castle.  The time is unified: less than 24 hours passes in the story.
The action is unified (roughly), with one event leading to another.  More
importantly, in Frank-N-Furter, we have the classic "tragic hero": a
character who begins in a position of power, is tragically flawed by his
own pride (his "hubris"), and is eventually humbled and defeated.  A real
tragic hero must have a recognition scene, a humbling moment, which comes
near the end of the play.  We have this with "I'm Going Home."  "Rocky
Horror" is a musical.  This ties it to both the Greek and Shakespearean
tragedy, which are written in verse form.  Like the tragic heroes in
Shakespeare, Frank-N-Furter eventually becomes his own opposite by the end
of the story.  He starts off as confident and definitely in control.
As the story goes on, we see cracks in the facade.  Frank gets upset when
reactions to his "creation" are only mediocre.  He's irritated by Eddie's
hogging of the spotlight and kills him.  During the "Medusa" sequence, we
see that Frank really is insecure.  His speech, to no one in particular
("It's not easy having a good time"), is the closest he comes to having a
soliloquy.  By the end, of course, Riff Raff has seized control, and Frank
is reduced to cowardly whimpering and pleading before he is killed.  In
Riff Raff, we have one of Shakespeare's favorite devices: the two-faced
individual who pretends to be what he's not while secretly planning an
overthrow all the while.  Like many Shakespearean tragedies ("Hamlet,"
"Othello," "Macbeth"), "Rocky Horror" ends with several characters being
killed.  Watching the film a second (or two-hundredth) time, we can see
the fatal mistakes made by Frank which lead to the final, inevitable
tragic ending.  Frank is so concerned with his "creation" and so paranoid
that Janet, Brad, and Dr. Scott are spies, that he doesn't see that Riff
and Magenta are really his worst enemies.  Like most Shakespearean tragic
heroes, Frank is "blind" to the truth.  Notice that when Riff has seized
control and Frank is now aware that he's been defeated, he sings, "I'm
Going Home," which has references to sight, eyes, and seeing.  He now
*sees* the truth.  (In "King Lear," Cornwall "sees" the truth after he has
been literally blinded.)  Jim Sharman has helpfully given us a close-up of
Frank's *eyes* during this scene.  The fact that he sees people in the
chairs shows that, like Lady Macbeth and King Lear, Frank has started to
lose his mind.  I don't think Frank expects to survive after Riff bursts
into the ballroom.  He sings of going "home," which Riff interprets
literally as "our home planet," but I think he means *spiritual* home.  He
recognizes the tragedy of the situation and has resigned himself to the
fact that this life is over.  His mad scramble for life (crawling up the
curtain) is merely a gut-level reaction and serves to show us how far
Frank has fallen since his grand entrance in "Sweet Transvestite."  It's
just a last-minute panic attack.  Of course, no tragedy would be complete
without a chorus, and "Rocky Horror" has one.  An easy answer to this
would be that Brad and Janet are the chorus, as they mostly react to what
is going on in the story and are our stand-ins in the film.  (A chorus is
meant to reflect the feelings of the people.)  And Brad and Janet's
opinions *are* changed over the course of the evening.  Note Brad's
comment, "You're going to kill him?  What's his crime?"  He, like us, does
not want Frank killed.  Another, less obvious "chorus" figure, is
Columbia.  She is the first to "call" Frank on his excesses and flaws (the
"I've had enough" speech).  She is able to tell Frank the truth.  And
*her* opinions have chaged, too.  ("I was a regular Frankie fan..")

Well, anyway, that's my theory.  I'm not really a great scholar or
anything, but I think it's an interesting *idea* to play with a while.