What Makes A Shakespearean Tragedy Essay, Research Paper
What does it take to make a tragedy?
William Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of Britain s best playwrights. His works are now classics; especially those labeled as tragedies. On the subject of tragedy, A.C. Bradley has to this to say:
Tragedy is a typical form of mystery because the greatness of soul
which it shows oppressed, conflicting, and destroyed is the highest
existence in our minds. It forces the mystery upon us, and makes
us realize vividly the worth of that which is wasted, and that such
waste of potential greatness, nobility of the soul, of humanity is
truly the tragedy of human existence.
Thus, a tragic pattern emerges (n. pag.).Shakespeare s plays, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello demonstrate clearly the elements of a tragic pattern in a Shakespearean play.
The first of these elements is the first impression and the greatness of the tragic hero. The greatness of the hero is normally heard from others in the beginning of the play before the hero even makes his entrance (Bradley n. pag.). In Hamlet, it is unsure at first to say that Hamlet is as noble and admired as Macbeth and Othello in the beginning. Yet by the middle of the story, it is seen that:
Hamlet is a tragic hero because the spectacle of his doings and undoings is profoundly stirring; it rouses the emotions of awe and admiration, it never
makes readers scorn or contempt (Scott 124). Unlike Hamlet, in the
beginning Scott saw Macbeth as a good man, noble, and admired by all who
knew him (101). Similar to Macbeth, Othello appeared to be a noble figure, generous, composed, and self-possessed (Gerard n. pag.). In Shakespearean tragedies, the reader must believe that the hero is really a hero who is admired and loved so that they can see their fall from the top (Bradley n. pag.).
Bradley put it best when he said that in Shakespeare, with greatness comes jealousy, ambition, and an obsession in both of those flaws (n. pag.). Hamlet s moral stature is so great that his back does not break. However he is crippled and the arm that should perform the Ghost s command is paralyzed. Thus, he supports the command, but cannot discharge it (Wilson 50). Throughout the play, Hamlet is troubled by the certain conditions that the ghost lays upon him. However he is set on revenge and eventually does go through with the task. In Macbeth, treasonous ambition collides with loyalty, the laws of hospitality, and patriotism in Macduff and Malcolm. These forces create both the external and internal conflict within Macbeth (Gerard n. pag.). Othello is a story of raging sexual jealousy prompted by the least credible of motives (Jorgensen 58). All three stories contain the jealousy, ambition, and obsession explained by Bradley. A sense of urgency develops with the conflict and not only creates tension, but also a steam-rolling inevitability regarding the hero s fall that he has started himself (Bradley n. pag.). After this has occurred the next characteristic of the tragic pattern occurs. The hero becomes isolated from his environment.
In most of his tragedies, Shakespeare allows chance in some form to influence some of the action. He also introduces the supernatural: ghosts and witches who have supernatural knowledge (Bradley n. pag.). In Hamlet, the Ghost keeps the play together and is the important instrument, which sets the plot in motion (Wilson 53). Macbeth contains witches and apparitions instead of ghosts. As seen in this excerpt:
Are less than horrible imaginings,
Shakespeare lets readers see that Macbeth can face the brutal realities of battle but not the ghastly human visions and extensions (Jorgensen 84). The Weird Sisters bring other sinister ambiguities or double meanings in Macbeth that confound the moral issues. Because of this Macbeth is a victim of irony. With the line from the chant, Fair is foul, and foul is fair ; the Weird Sisters are introduced and can be seen supernatural elements in the play (Jorgensen 84). Although not supernatural to the degree that Hamlet is, Othello descends from a literary genre, the Morality play, that enlarges man s role not to a mere series of events but to perhaps the greatest of struggles: that for man s soul (Jorgensen 61). Because of the ghost, witches, dreams, etc. tragic hero ends up alienating themselves from the world around them. They either do it consciously like Hamlet did by faking insanity or like Othello did when his jealousy blinded him from reason.
A confrontation by the enemy is always unexpected for the hero, but not for the audience. After, tragic recognition occurs for the hero (Bradley n. pag.). In Hamlet, Claudius sends Hamlet to his death on a voyage to England in hopes that he never returns. Hamlet is caught off guard, but uses it to his advantage. Macduff and Malcolm confront Macbeth by surprise. In the end he is killed. Yet the audience realizes; by how Macbeth went down fighting while surrounded by external, internal, natural, and supernatural enemies, how much there is that judgement does not know and how much there, through Shakespeare, they do (Mack 196). In Othello, Iago plots on Othello s obvious jealousy and frames Desdemona. In the end Othello kills Desdemona and lets Iago win without even knowing it (Mack 144).
When the hero knows that he is alone to blame, he alone has done wrong, and he accepts it absolutely, this is Tragic Recognition. Tragic Recognition occurs when it is too late to correct their errors; the result is their death usually (Bradley n. pag.). The graveyard scene in Hamlet, is the ultimate symbol, he confronts, recognizes, and accepts the condition of his being human (Mack 126). At the end, Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet all are killed. By the time Hamlet recognized his faults, his destiny was already decided. In Macbeth, Macbeth is too desensitized to care about his wrongs, but as Macduff searches for him, he feels a little remorse. By then is too late for him to turn back. In this excerpt from Othello:
I kissed thee ere I killed thee;
no way but this,
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss
Maynard Mack says that he believes that these lines ask us to understand that though he does justice on himself to punish his injustice to Desdemona, it is love not justice that he declares for at last (149).
In conclusion to this paper, it is necessary for the tragic hero to have so much greatness that in his fall, we don t close the book feeling man is a poor creature. Therefore a Shakespearean tragedy is never depressing (Scott 76). As one reads any of the aforementioned plays plus any other Shakespearean classic plays. It will be obvious to point out the five elements of a Shakespearean play and one shall be able to cite examples of it. Without each element, Shakespeare s plays would not be a true tragedy.
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