Of Shakespeare?s Tragedies Essay, Research Paper
Shakespeare?s tragedies were extremely popular in Elizabethan times and today. A tragedy is described as ?a sad, serious story or play, usually ending with the death of the hero. A disastrous, fatal or dreadful event.? By comparing the three plays, Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello it is possible to see how he has used techniques appropriate to tragedy and how he applied them to his plays. The opening of the play is significant because it sets the scene and the preceding atmosphere. When looking at the start of many of Shakespeare?s plays the audience generally discovers the protagonist by other characters. The audience also become aware of where the play is performed, together with important events contained in the play?s plot. In order to compose the openings of the plays it is necessary to examine the way in which Shakespeare uses setting, imagery, language, theme and structure. In doing this it will be possible to understand Shakespeare engages the audience attention in his opening scenes.
The setting of a play is very important. The setting creates the mood and can say a lot about the characters in that scene, following scenes, and often introduces characters we have not yet met. In Othello a dubious character Iago is introduced in a dark alley. Dark, shady pathways are synonymous with wrong doings and give the audience a hint that the character is bad. Shakespeare does this therefore, to create a picture of the character. He puts that character in a stereotypical environment. There is a degree of mystery surrounding the dark as it limits your senses. This helps accentuate the idea that Iago is a dubious character. In Macbeth the witches appear amidst thunder and lighting, when again this is a stereotypical environment associated with witchcraft. In Elizabethan/ Jacobean times, an audience thought of a witch, they would have also associated the thunder and lightning. This is because the people of that period believed in magic and that people had the power to change the weather. ?Tis bitter cold?, dark and misty on the moors In Hamlet when the ghost (Hamlets father, Hamlet) appears. Again Shakespeare has used the weather and the setting to exaggerate and add emphasis to the character. When thinking of ghosts stereotypically we think of them as white living in somewhere desolate with little or no activity. I cannot think of anywhere more bleak, dreary, desolate and unwelcoming than misty castle battlements. He has used this setting, as it is ideal for a ghost.
Each of the plays use pathetic fallacy to create a particular feeling amongst the audience. The lightning intensifies the feeling of fear from toward the witches in Macbeth and mist, in Hamlet creates the feeling of the supernatural, and the dark could make you cautious or wary. This also effectively introduces the characters into the play.
Shakespeare did not have expensive scenes or backdrops; all he had was cheap props. This meant that he was not restricted on where he could situate the plays. Shakespeare had an ignorant audience, none of them had been abroad and had little or no knowledge of the continent. Dew to very few stage props and the ignorance of his audience he could base the play anywhere and they would have been none the wiser. Although in each play Shakespeare uses similar techniques. The opening of Othello is very different to Hamlet and Macbeth. Macbeth and Hamlet both start at the end of the war. In Othello it is not clear. It does give some indications that they did have a war but it is not stated how long ago it was. At the beginning of Othello Iago bursts through and is in immediate conflict and scheming. Othello is also set abroad this could possibly enhance the romantic notion later on in the plot. Shakespeare possibly did this to develop or compliment the love scenes with Othello and Desdemona. Possibly the mystery associated with ignorance would just add to romance
In all of Shakespeare?s three plays the protagonist is not introduced in the opening scene. Shakespeare chooses other character to establish features of the protagonist. In Hamlet, Hamlet is described as ?valiant Hamlet.? We have not yet met Hamlet but we already know that he is a good and brave character. This is because in a tragedy the character has to be built up before he can fall. The character is talked about before he reaches the stage. Here Shakespeare begins to build up his characters greatness. Hamlet is talked about and seems to be brave so the audience thinks that he is this before they have even met him. In the start of Othello Iago is accusing Othello of things and he is insulting him. The crowd can see that Iago is a two faced, jealous character, instead of lowering Othello?s character it lowers Iago?s thus raising Othello?s position. Every time Iago insults Othello he makes his own character smaller. Again Shakespeare does this to raise Othello?s character so his fall will be greater. In Macbeth, Macbeth is described as ?Brave Macbeth? and ?noble Macbeth.? The witches also talk about the protagonist and they say they will meet him. Describing Macbeth using positive adjectives, makes Macbeth a greater character but it will also mean he will have a bigger fall when he does fall. The audience may think of Macbeth as a character that is very brave and noble before they have met him.
Shakespeare raises the audience?s opinion of the protagonist so that when they make a mistake the fall will be much greater and more dramatic. The audience anticipate a hero of great stature and hence probably have a higher opinion of him than they would have other wise have had.
Throughout the three plays Shakespeare writes using military terms and incorporates blood and violent imagery. In Macbeth Shakespeare writes about Macbeth as ?Bellona?s bridegroom.? Bellona was the goddess of war so saying Macbeth was her bridegroom was very honourable, it also insinuates that he is very good and strong in the army, and would have set off strong images of fighting and conflict. In Macbeth Shakespeare also writes about a ?bloody execution.? Shakespeare describes the execution as bloody and gives a bit of extra depth. The author later writes about the ?blood stained dagger,? which is referring to a bloody knife. Adjectives like this give the play more detail and make it more realistic. In hamlet the setting is a castle battlement. The audience feels that the play takes place in middle or at the end of a war. This gives some history to the plot and perhaps entices the audience. ?Dews of blood? is also mentioned. This image is particularly powerful as the audience picture a field covered in blood drops, surrounded in carnage. In Othello, Othello is the head of an army. This is the link to the military. It talks of the ?epithets of war? which means the mark of war. This alerts the audience to Othello?s possible achievements on the battlefield. Using an elegant word like that that no one will understand will make the characters seem like they are very knowledgeable. The battle language also adds history to the plot.
Shakespeare uses battles as an action scene however he did not have many props. As a result of this all battles and bloody details are mentioned in the characters speeches in order to be noticed. Shakespeare often uses battle language to make the character appear knowledgeable and possibly of a higher rank. It added depth to the play, and makes it look more believable. The battles can also be used to inform the audience on events that have happened before. It reflects the theme of conflict in each play. The audience of the Elizabethan / Jacobean period was much different to today?s. Then blood and war was much more acceptable and even entertaining. They would have enjoyed it a lot more than today?s audience.
In today?s society much of the power has been taken away from the monarchy. In the Elizabethan / Jacobean the king was much more respected we see this in the three plays, whether it is ?god save the king? in Macbeth, ?long live the king? in Hamlet but in Othello it does not talk about the king but it does talk about authority, ?heaven is my judge.? The reason that they include the king in the other two plays is that when the king walked on the stage the king instantly would have sent a feeling of command, impact and respect through the audience. The other is that if the king approved the play it would have been a lot more successful. The king James the first was paranoid about regicide and had good reason to be with the gunpowder plot. The idea treason is shown in Macbeth. This is a topical issue and one that would have been interested in. King James was also interested in the supernatural events among other things.
Due to the king?s interest of the supernatural the public was also allowed to speculate and hold believes. Shakespeare included the idea of magic and the supernatural in all of his plays, as this was also a topical issue. People would have feared witches, as people are afraid of the unknown. This concluded with a witch-hunt lead by James the first. Anyone who was even suspected of being a witch was killed. Shakespeare uses witches along with the weather to make the witches look evil for example the witches cast spells under thunder and lighting intensifying their evil. Fear is a very strong emotion and Shakespeare provokes the audience fearing the witches. The noise of the thunder and the rhyme of the spell captures the audience and unites them in fear. Thus creating an atmosphere of terror and apprehension in the audience. In Hamlet you have the ghost, which is the obvious supernatural element. With the ghost people may be scared or curious, when watching it. This could lead to people wanting to find out what happens next. In Othello, Othello is accused of having ?black magic.? This is the supernatural element in the Othello play. This would also have been a large issue in Shakespeare?s day, black magic, witches and ghosts. When looking through the play we must remember when the play was written and at this time in history most of the potential audience did believe in witches. Shakespeare uses this to his advantage in the plays by starting them all off with very strong supernatural images.
Another image that is very strong, in all three plays but more specifically Macbeth and Othello is animal imagery. Shakespeare uses images that his audience will know about and can relate to. He uses animals that his audience will know about, like horses. In Shakespeare?s day the people were not very well travelled. In Macbeth Shakespeare uses animal imagery in spells ?But in a sieve I?ll tuner sail And like a rat without a tail.? Here the butchered rat adds to the idea of the witches being revolting. Shakespeare also writes about ?as sparrows, eagles, or the hare, the lion.? This is a very positive image for Macbeth. The audience would think of the protagonist as stronger, and braver.
In Othello, Iago uses animal imagery to insult him racially. This shows a lack of dignity and nobility. Iago refers to Othello as a ?barbary horse.? Barbary meaning from the north coast of Africa. Iago has used a comment relating to Othello?s colour. Iago also crudely describes Othello and Desdemona as ?the beast with two backs? referring to them having sex and ?an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.? This is also a racist comment. Shakespeare uses this not to lower Othello?s character but to lower Iago, and by lowering the benchmark, he raises Othello?s character.
The animal imagery used in Hamlet is less significant, though. There is very little but there are some references to animals. ?The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn.? This is less of an image and more of an action though. Horatio does use some when mentioning how Fortinbras has acquired land, ?sharked up the list of landless? meaning he did it very stealthy. The spectators would then not have liked this character and thought of him as shifty and devious however by referring to ?valiant Hamlet? in the same paragraph it produces a subtle contrast.
Shakespeare uses animal to create images that everyone can relate to. The people in Shakespearean times did not know a wide selection of things so Shakespeare had to keep the images based on things that they could. The audience would have pictured better images as a result of this.
Shakespeare uses many dramatic devices to create tones, add depth and to establish character and their personalities. At the start of Macbeth the audience would have been shocked to here the witches spell but it would have got their attention with the rhyming couplets. The rhyming couplets could also pronounce that the witches are foolish or idiotic. At the end of each of the scenes, the scene concludes with a rhyming couplet. This lets the audience no that the scene is over. At the start of the play the witches say, ?Fair is foul and foul is fair.? This is a contradiction. It the audience what is going to happen through the play. It is a prediction but it contradicts itself. This is very dramatic, and it would have the audience think.
In Hamlet Barnardo uses iambic pentameter or blank verse. ?And let us once again assail your ears, That are so fortified against out story.? This allows his characters speeches to flow more easily. This keeps the audience captivated and makes the character look refined to have such well-written speeches. At the beginning of Hamlet the guards talk in no more than 1 sometimes 2 lines.
?Barnardo: Who is there?
Francisco: Nay answer me. Stand and unfold yourself
Barnardo: Long live the king!
This gives you a lot of information all at once and it also adds a feeling of tension as they are anticipating the arrival of a ghost. When more people arrive they get more relaxed and the speeches get longer. There are no rhyming couplets in this. This may be because Shakespeare wanted this play to be more serious than Macbeth. In Hamlet the also use onomatopoeia. ?Tush, tush.? This if said slowly would bring silence to the stage to silence, which could give quite an eerie setting.
In Othello there is no rhyme and no specific examples of blank verse. It does some heated conversation between Iago and Roderigo. They are talking about Othello, and Iago is talking badly of him. They also have a contradiction in the play ? I am not what I am.? This could also be used to make the audience think. There is no obvious use of blank verse or rhyme in this play in this play so it could be possible that as this is also a love story the Shakespeare used a different method and techniques.
Shakespeare used many techniques to create an entertaining tragedy. Each of the plays that have been examined is different. The plot is different and the ways that the protagonists are raised then fall are different. In Macbeth Shakespeare used witches to create a supernatural theme. This could have been to please James the first or it could have been to please the audience of the day. The ghost was used in Hamlet and the idea of black magic in Othello. These were images that an audience of Shakespeare?s day could have related to. In each of the plays Shakespeare had different aims. Othello was a love story as well as a tragedy so the structure form and images are different. The weather is also a very important tool to set a mood. It can be put with stereotypical characters to create images that people already thought, (witches and thunder and lightning). Shakespeare also uses images very successfully ? Dew of blood?. This creates images of carnage and blood. The king or queen was very respected in Shakespeare?s day so to include the king was good for the play, god would have been mentioned in day-to-day language so it was here. I think Shakespeare created three different tragedies using very different methods and techniques to get exactly the right mood, and characters for the subsequent differing plots.