Okay, nobody ends up with their eyes gauged out like in Oedipus Rex,and there are no sword fights and dead bodies like at the end of Hamlet, but Glengarry Glen Ross still fits the tragedy bill quite nicely.
It might not be a tragedy in the classic sense (and it's actually really funny when it's done well), but our protagonist's journey is a tragic one… and not just because shoulder pads were all the rage in the 1980s.
Enter Shelly "The Machine" Levene. In the old days, this guy could sell anything to anyone—he made his career and the careers of others on his ability to close. But time is a cruel mistress, and things ain't what they used to be; these days, Levene is down on his luck. He hasn't sold anything in a long time, but he knows he can do it again. If he can just get Williamson to give him the good leads, he'll get back on top and he'll reap the rewards of selling once again.
LEVENE: Marshal the leads… marshal the leads? What the f***, what bus did you get off of, we're here to f***ing sell. […] Our job is to sell. I'm the man to sell. (1.1.91-98)
Our hero knows he is the man for the job—he just needs a little help to get back on top. Of course, Williamson isn't going to help him at all though.
The next time we see Levene isn't until Act 2—he starts the play and then disappears for a while—and when we see him, though the office has been robbed, Levene is in great spirits when he comes in, because he has made a big time sale. He's recommitted to his job, and he's getting props from Roma and the other guys. This is just what he wanted:
LEVENE: Get the chalk. Get the chalk… get the chalk! I closed 'em! (2.1.241-242)
Being back in the game is a beautiful thing when you've been gone for a while, and Levene is ready to buy lunch for everybody (we love lunch… just sayin'). He just wants to talk about the sale and how he made it all go down, to relive the glory of his past and look forward to a glorious future.
For those of you who are down with Booker's take on things, you know that the frustration stage is when things start to slip out of control. This slip can seemingly come out of nowhere, and often a shadow figure shows up to threaten our hero. What's that you say? You need a shadow figure? Enter Williamson.
Things look good for Levene, and he's even jumped in to help Roma out, pretending to be a client of his. But then Williamson makes an appearance and blows the Lingk deal for Roma. Roma heads out, and Levene is left face-to-face with his enemy, but when Levene goes off on Williamson, he makes a fatal mistake. He says something that tips Williamson off, and now it's clear Levene is the one who robbed the office. However, things aren't completely lost yet:
WILLIAMSON: What'd you do with the leads? (Pause, Points to Detective's room.) You want to go in there? I tell him what I know, he's going to dig up something... You got an alibi last night? You better have one. What did you do with the leads? If you tell me what you did with the leads, we can talk. (2.1.1048-1054)
Okay, things look bad for our boy Levene, but there is still hope—he can tell Williamson what he did and avoid having to tell the cops. Do you know what good old Booker says has to happen in a tragedy at this point, though? Booker says our hero might engage in some "dark acts." So, what does Levene do? He rats out Moss. Ouch.
WILLIAMSON: How much did you get for them?
LEVENE: Five thousand. I kept half.
WILLIAMSON: Who kept the other half? (Pause.)
LEVENE: Do I have to tell you? (Pause. Williamson starts to open the door.) Moss.
WILLIAMSON: That was easy wasn't it? (2.1.1068-1074)
Now Williamson has all the info he needed. Things are about to get really bad for Levene.
Have you ever been fishing? You dangle the bait out there on a line, in hopes that a fish comes along, thinks it's a tasty treat, and grabs it. It's one big trick, if you think about it, and if all goes well, soon you've got yourself a nice little fish on the line.
Williamson does pretty much the same thing with Levene. He throws out bait, and Levene totally bites. He thinks that by telling Williamson what he did with the leads and who helped him, Williamson will help him out, but instead Williamson just sells him out anyway. Levene begs for mercy, even offering Williamson a fifty percent cut of all his future commissions. It's not about money for Williamson, though; he's won the battle:
WILLIAMSON: No, I think I don't want your money. I think you f***ed up my office. And I think you're going away. (2.1.1113-1115)
Before he seals Levene's fate though, Williamson is going to make it hurt a little more. He tells Levene that the big sale Levene made earlier is a sham—the check will bounce, and the buyers are frauds. Levene's got nothing to hang his hat on now, and nothing he can use as a bargaining chip.
The Destruction Stage
In the grand old tragedies, this would be the moment where Levene blinds himself or dies in some violent or unnecessary manner. But this is "real life," and there are worse things than losing your eyes. Levene knows now that he could go to jail, and—and this might be even worse than prison—his reputation is shot. Plus he's been beaten by that sniveling little company man, Williamson. And why? Well, this might be Williamson's most brilliant little barb of all:
WILLIAMSON: Because I don't like you.
LEVENE: John… John… my daughter.
WILLIAMSON: F*** you. (2.1.1167-1170)
Levene, our tragic hero, has prided himself on his ability to talk to people—to win them over and to close them—and he's a man who wants respect for what he's done. In the end though, it's the fact that he's never given Williamson an ounce of respect at all that brings about his undoing. Williamson doesn't like him, and Levene is going to pay for it. There's no hope now—Levene is a broken, beaten man.