Fate and Character in Tragedy

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      Tragedy depicts Characters in his helplessness and agony, in his distress and despair, in his struggle and suffering and often ends with his death. But “what is the cause of his suffering?” or “who is responsible for his suffering?” is fundamental question. Though the tragic hero is brought down by some deficiency in character, fate often plays a role in the downfall - especially in the Greek tragedies. The tragic hero usually tries to outwit fate, with his character flaw being his pride in thinking that outwitting fate is possible. Therefore, tragedies of fate are usually focused on a moral message about not trying to outrun destiny. Tragedies of character minimize the role of fate and focus instead on human choice and moral accountability. Shakespeare’s tragedies are tragedies of characters as distinguished from the Greek tragedies which are tragedies to the inevitable operation of character and circumstances, while in the Greek tragedies the catastrophe is brought about by some extra-cosmic force, which does not obey human reason and will.

      Many examples of tragedy of fate can be found in classical literature. Oedipus the King is one of the most often cited examples. In this play by Sophocles, an oracle tells Oedipus that he will murder his father and marry his mother. He tries to outwit fate by leaving his home and the people he believes to be his parents; he does not know he was adopted. During his travels, Oedipus kills a man who turns out to be his biological father, then marries the woman who turns out to be his biological mother. His mother hangs herself when she learns the truth, and Oedipus blinds himself. In Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet are said to be brought together by fate, yet their feuding families keep them apart. The price of this human pettiness is the death of the young lovers.

      Because character is so often linked to fate in narrative, scholars often debate whether a story is a true tragedy of character. Macbeth can be considered a tragedy of character, because Macbeth becomes blinded by his ambition and allows his wife to persuade him to commit an evil act, leading to his own eventual downfall. The witches told Macbeth he would be king but his descendents would not be, so the story includes an element of the hero trying to work against fate. Here Macbeth’s character is responsible for his destruction. In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Willy Loman is a proud man who cannot bear the reality of his own failure, and his flaw costs him his family and his life. Though Loman is not a noble man or king like most tragic heroes, the play has many elements of tragedy of character.

      Hence, it is to be assumed that both character’s responsibility and fate s cruelty can be liable for the heroes’ destiny. Shakespeare believes in both Responsibility and Fate. For example,

“The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

“As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sports”

      The particular situations in which the heroes are placed aggravate the defects and thus impossible situation are created for them. Their fault is the result of a combination of their characters and fate or destiny. A. C. Bradley’s view of “Character is destiny” is thus, partly acceptable. Because, where the classical tragedy believes in the dominance of fate, Shakespearean tragedy accepts both fate and character as shaping the destiny of the tragic hero.

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