Write A Note on Shakespearean Tragedy

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      The Shakespearean tragedy is actually a form of the romantic tragedy that flourished in the elizabethan age its source of inspiration is mainly Seneca - his revenge plays. The tragedy with Shakespeare is always considered with the story of the exceptional suffering of the hero or the both the hero and heroine. In each tragedy he has drawn some mighty heroic  features who bring their own calamity and destruction and each tragic Hero has his or her "Hamartia", an error of judgement Shakespearean tragedies give rise to the feelings and pity and fear and at the end of each tragedy the stage is flooded with dead bodies.

Shakespearian tragedy
Shakespearean Tragedy

      In many of the tragedies by Shakespeare there are found violent murders shocking revelations supernatural appearances, ghost, witches, terror, revenge and blood etc. In a Shakespearean tragedy there are always found galaxy of characters well drawn and brilliantly sketched by the author. A tragedy by Shakespeare is always a balanced composition between the power of human destiny and the exceptional abilities of a character. In this domain of tragedy, there are some of the world's greatest tragedies are found existed Shakespeare's - Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra etc. have been considered the most successful tragedies on an English stage.

Shakespearean Tragedy: One Key Figure

      Though they introduce a long list of dramatis personae, Shakespeare’s tragedies are ultimately concerned with only one character—the hero—whose fortunes are its real theme. The other characters, though sufficiently interesting in themselves, serve only to provide the links in the story of his fate. It is not without significance that all the four chief tragedies are named after the principal figure. In the love-tragedies. Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra, a pair of lovers—the hero and the heroine dominate the action, and appropriately give their names to the play. None of the tragedies we have chosen has love for its theme. Their theme is, rather, hatred and revenge, jealousy and suspicion, envy and ingratitude, ambition and intrigue.

High Status of the Hero

      Shakespeare’s tragic hero is not an ordinary mortal. He is not a superman, like the hero in a play of Marlowe’s, but his rank of gifts raises him above the characters, and what happens to him is of public importance. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, Lear is King of Britain, and Macbeth and Othello, when we first meet them, are distinguished warriors.

The Hero’s Fatal Flaw

      Shakespeare’s tragic hero is a man of many noble qualities with one flaw that causes his ruin. Hamlet has ‘the courtier’s soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword’ but he suffers from an indecision that is in the end disastrous. Othello is a ‘noble and valiant general’, whom the full senate of Venice call all-in-all sufficient’, but he is a slave to jealousy. Macbeth is ‘a peerless kinsman’, ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’, but he is possessed of ‘black and deep desires’ that lead him to destruction. Lear is every inch a king; it is his violent temper and lack of judgment that proves his undoing. It is true that Macbeth was egged on to his crimes by his wife, and that Iago worked upon Othello, but the fatal flaw in their characters was there in the first place.

As Meredith reminds us:
In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be. Passions spin the plot,
We are betrayed by what is false within.

Fate and Character

      In Greek tragedy the characters are the victims of implacable Destiny. Their doom is decreed beforehand, and they cannot escape it. This conception is quite foreign to Shakespeare for his tragic figures bring their fate down on themselves by son error of their own, arising, as we have said from some inherent flaw in their nature. They embark upon a course by which their ruin is eventually assured. That course may nevertheless be directed by two influences beyond their control: the intervention of the I supernatural (though on a lower plane than anything imagined by the Greek dramatists), and the play of chance. The ghost of Hamlet’s father lays a burden upon the son which he is unable to bear. The witches spur the ambitions of Macbeth. The loss of the handkerchief in Othello, similarly, has its own contribution to make towards the catastrophe. The choice in each case, however, - remains with the hero, who can resist these influences if he so chooses, being what he is, however, and in the circumstances in which he is placed, he cannot follow any other course than the one depicted for us by the dramatist. His character involves his fate.

Romantic Plot Structure

      Every one of Shakespeare’s tragedies violates the classical unities. There is plenty of external action in each one of them, and they cover wide stretches of, time and frequent changes of place, including journeys overseas. English drama had developed along its own loose lines and improvised its own methods, and Shakespeare was writing for the Elizabethan, not the Attic, stage.

External and Internal Conflict

      In Shakespearean tragedy, the violent and vivid action on the stage has its counterpart in the inner conflict in the hero’s mind. Physically he finds himself a member of one of the two opposed groups, in the play, and physically he is sharply divided against himself. Ultimately he suffers defeat both outwardly and inwardly. Lear’s fate is the worst of all, for he dies dethroned, decrepit and insane.

      The presentation of this inner conflict is a difficult task for the most accomplished actor, and here it may be permissible to quote the comments of a writer in the Times Literary Supplement on the portrayal of the great tragic figures on the modem stage. ‘The audience of to-day’, he says, looks by insisting, not on the exploitation of an extraordinary personality, unless it be comic, but on character drawing which shows a scrupulous regard for psychological verisimilitude and for what it takes to be the fine shades of the dramatist’s intention.

      Thus the demands it makes on the tragic actor are as formidable as, perhaps more formidable than, any made in the past, and he cannot satisfy them by histrionics, however flashing. We ask not only that the salient parts of a character shall be given due theatrical prominence, but that all the parts shall be smoothly joined in a consistent whole. It is this lack that Hazlitt often noted in Edmund Kean’s finest performances: ‘the parts might be perfect in themselves, but they were not joined together.’ Lightning, but also darkness!

      Even a soliloquy, originally intended perhaps to be no more than a rush of fiery, ravishing words, and so taken by Burbage (the leading Elizabethan tragedian), must nowadays be made to reveal character. Thus the capital difficulty of the modem tragic actor’s art is to achieve the required consistency drawing while at the same time contriving to strike fire out of the part’.

The Rise and Fall of Fortune

      Hamlet and King Lear plunge their heroes into tragedy almost at once, but this is not always the case with the Shakespearean plot. In other instances, the first part of the play shows the rise of the hero’s fortunes, and the rest his downfall. We see Macbeth attain his ends; Romeo wins his Juliet; and Othello at such a peak of joy and success that he says “If it were now to die, t’were now to be most happy”. This is the more usual and perhaps more truly dramatic form, as it provides such an emphatic contrast between triumph and disaster.

Many Victims

      The hero is not the only person whose life is forfeited. The last scene of Hamlet closes with four dead bodies on the stage; Polonius and Ophelia have already died. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio and Tybalt are killed at the opening of Act III. Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son, Lady Macbeth herself all die before Macbeth is brought to his account. The Elizabethan playgoer was not repelled, as a modem audience would be, by so much violence and bloodshed.

Uplifting Effect

      In the hands of a great poet such stories of undeserved suffering and death do no’ depress us. On the contrary the spectacle of noble or powerful characters at war with circumstances tends rather to strengthen and exalt the spirit. Though the good has perished with the wicked, it does not mean that evil is victorious, for it is always shown as meeting with due punishment. The audience may go away quiet and reflective, but it is not weighed down with gloom.


      The tragic plot, like the comic, is composed of three parts: Exposition, Conflict and Crisis followed by Catastrophe. The Exposition, as in comedy, explains the situation with which the play opens, including the parts assigned to the various characters. The Conflict develops the main theme—the clash of opposing aims and rival groups, and the steps towards some deadly outcome. The Crisis shows the hero in his last stages, struggling desperately to retrieve the situation but moving inevitably along the road to Catastrophe.

      Shakespearean scholars consider the following eleven plays, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Richard II, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, and Coriolanus as his tragedies, though Titus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus are classed Roman plays, and Richard III and Richard II history plays. The following outlines will give us an idea of these tragedies and help us to understand Shakespeare’s philosophy of tragedy and tragic heroes.

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