Tragedy in the Goblet of Fire

If J. K. Rowling had written Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a tragedy, the protagonist would not be Harry Potter, but Barty Crouch, Sr.

Now, upon investigation, the story of Barty Crouch, Sr., does not follow the Aristotelean definition of tragedy; still, I think there is no question that Crouch is a tragic figure, at least if tragedy is loosely understood.

I want to explore the tragic story of the Crouch family because upon further reading of and reflection upon The Goblet of Fire I believe that it is this story that drives the plot. It is in many ways one of the most important elements of the book, and the degenerate form which it took in the film was a weakness. Barty Crouch, Sr., became a timid old fart; and Barty Crouch, Jr., a cardboard nutjob with a tic. One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Goblet of Fire (the book, I mean) is the discovery of the wider wizarding world, to which Harry has been (despite his importance as the Boy Who Lived) a peripheral figure, and which has a life and energy of its own apart from Harry and Hogwarts. The story of the Crouches is part of that world.

Dumbledore's epitaph on Barty Crouch, Jr. is applicable in part to his father: 'see what that man chose to make of his life! [p, 615]' We shall see how essential the tragedy of Barty Crouch, Sr., is to the plot of The Goblet of Fire, how the Crouch family dynamics and relationships implied or discussed in the book imitate, in however fantastic a way, those of ordinary families, and what lesson, if lesson there is, we can take from the example of the Crouches.

Is Barty Crouch, Sr., a Tragic Protagonist?
I'll be comparing Barty Crouch's life and fate to Aristotle's definition of tragedy in his Poetics (using the Penguin Classics 1996 edition by Malcolm Heath; references following the page number of that particular edition are to sections of the text, which are universally used - for example, one quotation below cites '54b9-16'; this refers to lines 9 to 16 of section 54b, divisions which may be found in any edition of the text).

Although the downfall of Barty Crouch, Sr., doesn't quite line up to the Philosopher's understanding of tragedy, certain aspects of his life and character do match some important components of Aristotelean tragedy.

Aristotle writes:
[Tragedy] should... be an imitation of events that evoke fear and pity, since that is the distinctive feature of this kind of imitation. ... [In order that they evoke fear and pity, the one to whom the events imitated occur must be] the sort of person who is not outstanding in moral excellence or justice; on the other hand, the change to bad fortune which he undergoes is not due to any moral defect or depravity, but to an error [hamartia] of some kind. He is one of the people who are held in great esteem and enjoy great good fortune, like Oedipus, Thyestes, and distinguished men from that kind of family. [pp. 20-1; 52b36-7, 53a9-14.]
Since tragedy is an imitation of people better than we are, one should imitate good portrait-painters. In rendering the individual form, they paint people as they are, but make them better-looking. In the same way the poet who is imitating people who are irascible or lazy or who have other traits of character of that sort should portray them as having those characteristics, but also as decent people. For example, Homer portrayed Achilles as both a good man and a paradigm of obstinacy. [p. 25; 54b9-16]
Now, I wonder whether the error which causes a tragic protagonist to go from having good to bad fortune (a change essential to tragedy; see Poetics, p. 21; 53a15-20) need not be due in part to a moral defect in that person. Certainly in Shakespearean tragedy (in whose work the influence of the Poetics is apparent) the tragic protagonists (such as Hamlet, Brutus, or Othello) are flawed, yet remain, as Aristotle calls for, 'better than we'. And Aristotle in any case admits, as with the example of Achilles, that portrayals of character may reveal their flaws.

So the first thing to ask is whether Barty Crouch, Sr. (hereafter referred to as either 'Crouch' or 'Mr. Crouch'; Barty Crouch, Jr., shall henceforth be referred to as 'Barty'), qualifies as 'better than we'.

Allowing that Crouch, by the time of his appearance in The Goblet of Fire, has already had his downfall (only things are shortly to get worse), he remains highly respected by the wizarding community in Britain. And, as we learn upon the discovery that the Moody who has been teaching at Hogwarts during Harry's fourth year is really Barty (p. 596), Crouch dismisses Winky not out of concern for his reputation but because she had nearly let the cat out of the bag. Sirius and Hermione in their denunciation of Crouch are only half right, because they don't know the truth (pp. 455-6). Crouch's angry dismissal of Winky is only another step in his tragic movement from good to bad fortune.

Crouch, then, can be considered a bona fide candidate for tragic protagonist (if, that is, The Goblet of Fire were a tragedy), although perhaps Aristotle would not consider him the best example thereof.

Does What Happen to Crouch Qualify as Tragic?
Now to see whether the Crouch family story-line qualifies, according to Aristotle, as tragic. First, Crouch, as I established above, is worthy for consideration as a tragic protagonist. Second, he suffers a change from good to bad fortune; of this there is no doubt. It remains to be seen whether what happens to Crouch is the kind of event which would evoke fear and pity, the which, according to Aristotle, are the two emotions which tragedy should evoke and purify, being an imitation of actions which are liable to evoke fear and pity because they are changes of fortune from good to bad happening to men or women better than we are (see Poetics, pp. 10 [49b27-31], 21 [53a8-25]).

Now, it might be difficult for Crouch's story, as it is presented in The Goblet of Fire, to arouse fear and pity in its readers. After all, we read only bits and pieces about him throughout the book, and much remains unknown (unless the reader is really good at picking up and figuring out the clues Rowling places throughout the book) until Barty, masquerading as Mad-Eye Moody, spills the beans at the very end.

It is also difficult, I think, until the end, when Crouch's secret is finally revealed, for readers to feel much fear or pity concerning what happens to Mr. Crouch (setting aside the question of whether people these days are receptive to catharsis), because he is not protrayed as particularly noble, as two of the characters who share their stories about Crouch, Sirius and Barty, aren't especially well-disposed toward him (not without reason), while one of Dumbledore's recollections which Harry sees in the Pensieve (pp. 515-18), that of the sentencing of Barty Crouch, Jr., to Azkaban, is the moment of Crouch's downfall. Besides, at that point in the book readers don't know that Barty really is bad, so it is hard to feel sorry for Crouch as he condemns his own son to Azkaban.

But, given the limitations which the unfolding of Crouch's story as it occurs in the book place on our ability to feel fear or pity, I believe his story is just the sort of event Aristotle would recommend.

He writes:
Necessarily, we are concerned with interactions between people who are closely connected with each other ... . What one should look for are situations in which sufferings arise within close relationships, e.g. brother kills brother, son father, mother son, or son mother - or is on the verge of killing them, or does something else of the same kind. ... It is possible for the action to come about... with people acting in full knowledge and awareness[.] ... It is also possible for the action to be performed, but for the agents to do the terrible deed in ignorance and only then recognise the close connection[.] ... A third possibility besides these is for someone to be on the verge of performing some irreparable deed through ignorance, and for recognition to pre-empt the act. [p. 23; 53b16-39]
Here I must pause to note that Aristotelean tragedy focusses on a single action, the completion of which, Aristotle writes, ought to occur within the timeframe of a single day (p. 9, 49b12-14; obviously its imitation, whether in the form of written verse or Athenian drama, should take even less time than that). And I'm sure that Crouch's tragic downfall is, as a plot, defective in Aristotle's eyes. But what happens to Crouch, as we shall see, is the kind of thing which would evoke fear and pity in those who hear of it.

Imagine an important and influential person; say, a minister of justice, who has worked tirelessly and successfully to combat some unjust or illegal action (e.g., human trafficking). So renowned is this person that he or she is viewed by many as the best choice for the nation's next prime minister. She (let us say) is known to be hard-working and devoted to the cause. Then, suddenly, her own son and only child is discovered in the company of people known to be involved in human trafficking, at the scene of a heinous crime. She uses her influence, not to get her son out of trouble, but to see to it that he is punished to the greatest possible extent. Meanwhile, it is unclear that the young man is truly guilty of participating in the crime, but this minister effectively disowns him. Suddenly people see her in a different light. She worked too hard, ignored her family, became too concerned for her reputation. Disgraced, the minister eventually leaves the position for a different ministry, but not to become prime minister.

One feels pity, and a kind of fear. Obviously such feelings are muted. But because this is Barty Crouch's story in a mundane, contemporary form, one feels pity and fear over the action which brought Crouch's downfall, his condemnation of his son to Azkaban. More fearful and pitiable still is Crouch's fate thereafter, when he rescues Barty Crouch, Jr., from the wizarding prison, hides him in his home, and keeps his presence a secret. This leads to his destruction, as we know.

The Importance of Crouch's Story to the Plot of The Goblet of Fire
If there is one thing Rowling is good at, it is making plots. Because she set her stories in a world in which magic is possible, she has a great deal of leeway in terms of what events are plausible.

It is, by the way, the nature of the plot that, despite being tragic (in a looser definition than Aristotle's), makes it incompatible with the Aristotelean definition of tragedy; namely, there are no moments of recognition or reversal, two elements Aristotle considered essential for tragedy. Or, if there are, they do not occur in the manner which Aristotle describes, which would help explain why the evocation of the emotions of fear and pity by Crouch's fate is not very strong (apart, of course, from the fact that he is a peripheral figure in The Goblet of Fire, not the protagonist of his own story).
I will spell out the tragedy of Barty Crouch, Sr., and how it is of vital importance to the wider plot of The Goblet of Fire. Indeed, it is a sine qua non of The Goblet of Fire; without it, the events of the book could not have taken place as they did, and by means of the plotline of the Crouches, Rowling is able to create an absorbing plot the events of which flow coherently and logically. In this respect Crouch's story resembles Aristotelean tragedy, for the events which occur, and their ramifications for the larger plot of The Goblet of Fire, are governed by probability and necessity; as we shall see, there is only one event the occurrence of which is due to chance (and even then it is plausible); the rest occur naturally either due to the character of the people who perform them or as necessarily following preceding events.

  1. Bartemius Crouch, Sr., is Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement during Voldemort's first rise to power. He is 'tipped as the next Minister for Magic' (p. 456). The Crouches are an old, pure-blood wizarding family (p. 615).
  2. During the struggle against Voldemort, Crouch authorises the use of violence, even of the Unforgivable Curses, against suspected supporters of Voldemort (p. 457), among other controversial decisions.
  3. Voldemort disappears after attempting to curse Harry Potter. Crouch seems a shoo-in for Minister for Magic.
  4. Barty Crouch, Jr., is captured in the company of Bellatrix Lestrange and two other Death Eaters, who tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom (Neville's mother and father, although this detail is incidental for the plot) with the Cruciatus Curse in order to try to learn of Voldemort's whereabouts (pp. 457, 516-7).
  5. At the trial, Crouch, Sr., sentences the torturers of the Longbottoms, including his own son, Barty Crouch, Jr., to a life sentence in Azkaban. During the proceedings he angrily disowns his son (pp. 517-8)
  6. Cornelius Fudge is named Minister for Magic, while Crouch is shunted to the Department of International Magical Co-operation, because of the disgrace caused by his son being found among Death Eaters and the sympathy of people toward Barty, Jr., who appeared to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet died in prison having been sent there at his father's command (it transpires that Barty did not die and was, in fact, a faithful supporter of Voldemort; pp. 459, 596).
  7. At the behest of his wife, who is dying, Crouch agrees to smuggle his son out of Azkaban. Mrs. Crouch takes her son's place in prison and dies there, appearing to be Barty, Jr., because of Polyjuice Potion. A staged funeral is held for Mrs. Crouch. Crouch keeps Barty under control with many spells, including the Imperius Curse, and hidden beneath an Invisibility Cloak at all times. The Crouch's house-elf, Winky, is given responsibility for caring for and watching over Barty (pp. 593-4; cf. Sirius's tale of Crouch's last visit to Azkaban on p. 459).
  8. Bertha Jorkins, at the time in Crouch's Department (International Magical Co-operation) comes to the Crouch household on business and discovers the truth about Barty, Jr. When she confronts Crouch about it, he places a Memory Charm upon her so powerful that it damages her mind (pp. 58, 595).
  9. At some point, Bertha is transferred to the Department of Magical Games and Sports (p. 58).
  10. Barty, Jr., is gradually able to resist the control of his father's Imperius curse for brief periods of time (p. 595).
  11. After Professor Quirrell's death, Voldemort (who is little more than an insubstantial consciousness) flees and returns, at length and at an unknown date, to Albania (The Philosopher's Stone, p. 216; Goblet of Fire, pp. 567-8), where he had fled after the destruction of his body when he attempted to kill Harry.
  12. Peter Pettigrew (alias Wormtail), in hiding as Ron Weasley's pet rat Scabbers, is forced to reveal himself by Sirius Black and Remus Lupin (Prisoner of Azkaban, pp. 271-6). He escapes, however, an event which along with his return to Voldemort had been predicted by Divination Professor Sybil Trelawney (Prisoner of Azkaban, pp. 238, 279, 310-11).
  13. Wormtail reunites with Voldemort in Albania at some point during the summer between Harry's third and fourth year at Hogwarts (pp. 15, 568).
  14. Crouch, as Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation, is involved with organising the staging of the Quidditch World Cup in Britain, as well as that of the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts. Winky persuades him to permit Barty to watch the Quidditch World Cup live (pp. 57-8, 83-4, 595). 
  15. Bertha Jorkins goes on holiday to visit relations in Albania, over a month before the Quidditch World Cup (p. 58). By chance she meets Wormtail at an inn. He persuades her to come with him and brings her to Voldemort, whereupon she is interrogated by the Dark Lord. During the course of the interrogation, Voldemort breaks through the Memory Charm Crouch had put upon her and discovers the truth about Barty Crouch, Jr. (pp. 15-16, 568-9, 597); he uses the information he learned from her to formulate a plan to catch Harry Potter to use him in his rebirthing (p. 570). He murders Bertha once he learns all she knows.
  16. During the Quidditch World Cup, Winky and Barty sit in the Top Box, with Barty beneath his Invisibility Cloak and Winky pretending to save a seat for Crouch (who does not show up during the match). Winky, who is afraid of heights, does not watch what Barty is doing. Barty comes to his senses during the match and steals Harry Potter's wand from out of his pocket (pp. 88-90, 111-2, 594-6).
  17. After the match, when Crouch leaves to deal with the Death Eaters, Winky forces Barty to accompany her out of the tent, and they flee into the wood near the pitch, where Barty uses Harry's wand to summon the Dark Mark (pp. 112, 115-6, 596) in the presence of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Ministry wizards subsequently arrive and sweep the area with Stunning Spells. Barty and Winky are stunned (pp. 116, 596). Crouch finds Barty's stunned form after Amos Diggory discovers Winky (pp. 118-9, 596). For her failure to keep control of Barty and for being discovered with Harry's wand, Crouch sacks Winky (pp. 123-4, 596).
  18. Between the Quidditch World Cup and the start of fall term at Hogwarts, Voldemort and Wormtail arrive at the Crouch household, whereupon Crouch is placed under the Imperius Curse and Barty freed (p. 597). Barty and Wormtail subsequently subdue Mad-Eye Moody; Barty impersonates Moody and deals with the Ministry wizards upon their arrival to investigate the disturbance created by the attack (pp. 141-3, 598).
  19. Crouch, under the Imperius Curse, at first goes to work and attends the early stages of the Triwizard Tournament. Eventually he begins to fight the curse and so is left under Wormtail's guard at home. He escapes at the start of summer term and travels to Hogwarts between the Second and Third Tasks, but Barty finds him before he can reveal the truth to Dumbledore. Barty murders his father, Transfigures his body into a bone, and buries it in the freshly-dug earth at Hagrid's hut (Barty's summary of these events may be found on pp. 598-9). So ends the life of Bartemius Crouch.
Barty Crouch, Jr.'s impersonation of Alastor Moody, and the ways in which he manipulates the Triwizard Tournament and its participants in order to guarantee that Harry Potter takes the Cup and is transported to the Little Hangleton graveyard to be used in Voldemort's rebirth (with the hope, of course, that he would be killed by the Dark Lord) is more openly described during the course of the book, although the true nature of things is not revealed until Barty Crouch, Jr., spills the beans under the effect of Veritaserum.

All of the above events, which necessarily had to happen for the plot of The Goblet of Fire to proceed as it did, can be seen to have occurred of necessity, either as following events which preceded them, or because of choices the characters make which are characteristic (as it were) of them; all of them, that is, save one, which is the chance encounter of Bertha Jorkins and Wormtail in Albania (although that Bertha was in Albania is explained by the fact that she is visiting family there). However, though caused by chance the event is by no means improbable.

As for the other events, they occurred, as I said, of necessity. Wormtail went to Albania and was reunited with his master because it was prophesied that he would do so (it is also the only thing he could do, too). What we learn of Crouch's character makes it clear why he would send his own son to Azkaban, and why he would sack Winky (although those who comment on his motives for doing so are only half-right, being ignorant of the real reason for his anger at her). It seems uncharacteristic of Crouch to agree to his wife's plan, but to make such a decision out of love is not implausible. What we learn of the nature of the Imperius Curse explains how first Barty and then in his turn Crouch would, at times, be able to fight it off.

Bertha's decision to follow Wormtail is characteristic of her, especially after Crouch damaged her mind with his powerful Memory Charm. That she learned the truth about Barty Crouch, Jr., follows from working in Crouch's Department, having to go to his house on business, and overhearing (probably because she was snooping) Winky talk to Barty, something which we should take to be characteristic of Winky (e.g., while fleeing the tent she is talking to Barty, heedless of the possibility of discovery; fortunately for him the context of her speech is misinterpreted by Harry, Ron, and Hermione). It follows that Crouch would silence Bertha when she confronted him about it to prevent his secret from being spilled; and it follows from her encounter with Voldemort that, he being a powerful wizard, he would discover that secret and learn other information as well that would allow him to formulate the plan to get Harry.

It follows from Crouch's decision to hide Barty at home and appoint Winky to be his caregiver that the house-elf would eventually be able to persuade him to allow Barty to go to the World Cup (Barty significantly quotes Winky as telling his father that his mother 'would have wanted it', p. 595). It is characteristic of Barty that, when he came to in the Top Box and found a wand within reach, he would take it, and characteristic of him to be angry with the other Death Eaters and summon the Dark Mark to intimidate them. And it follows from Winky's absence after she had been sacked that there would be no one to help Crouch upon Voldemort and Wormtail's arrival; it also follows that Voldemort would go to Crouch's home to acquire the services of a more loyal and more talented servant than Wormtail.

Crouch's death is also caused by necessity. Of necessity, once Crouch himself came to and escaped (which follows from what we know of Wormtail, who is unlikely to have been a very adept guard), Voldemort sent word to Barty. Barty was able to find Crouch because he had acquired from Harry the Marauder's Map (thanks to a series of circumstances which necessarily followed one another), was able to overpower Krum and murder Crouch because of his Invisibility Cloak, and the freshly-dug earth at Hagrid's was the site of a lesson featuring Nifflers; as for the Transfiguration of Crouch's body into a bone, we know that Barty is adept at Transfiguration because he transformed Malfoy into a ferret.

So much, then (as Aristotle would put it), for the events which led to Crouch's downfall and eventual death at the hands of his son. We see that Rowling is highly skilled at putting together intricate, detailed, and logical plots, undoubtedly one of the reasons why her books are so popular.

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