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Shakespearean Tragedy


Be it Macbeth , King Lear , Hamlet or Othello , we scarcely see Shakespeare s conformation to this unity. His last play The Tempest , ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Shakespearean Tragedy

Shakespearean Tragedy
  • As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,They
    kill us for their sport.
  • - King

submitted by Neha Bansal
What did Aristotle say?
  • ?st?? ??? t?a??d?a µ?µ?s?? p???e?? sp??da?a? ?a?
    te?e?a?, µ??e??? ????s??, ?d?sµ??? ????, ?????
    ???st? t?? e?d?? ?? t??? µ??????, d???t?? ?a? ??
    d?'?pa??e??a?, d?' ????? ?a? f?ß?? pe?a????sa t??
    t?? t????t?? pa??µ?t?? ???a?s??. which
    means Tragedy is an imitation of an action that
    is admirable, complete (composed of an
    introduction, a middle part and an ending), and
    possesses magnitude in language made
    pleasurable, each of its species separated in
    different parts performed by actors, not through
    narration effecting through pity and fear the
    purification of such emotions.

Six parts of Tragedy
Tragic Heroas per Aristotle Shakespeare
  • Aristotle defined the tragic hero as a character
    of noble stature and has greatness.  This should
    be readily evident in the play.  The character
    must occupy a "high" status position but must
    ALSO embody nobility and virtue as part of
    his/her innate character. eg. King Lear is the
    king of England, Hamlet is the prince of Demark.
  • Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great,
    he/she is not perfect. 
  • The hero's downfall, therefore, is partially
    her/his own fault, the result of free choice, not
    of accident or villainy or some overriding,
    malignant fate.  In fact, the tragedy is usually
    triggered by some error of judgment or some
    character flaw that contributes to the hero's
    lack of perfection noted above.   This error of
    judgment is known as hamartia. Often the
    character's hamartia involves hubris (which is
    defined as a sort of arrogant pride or
    over-confidence). Eg. If extreme irrationality
    is the hubris of Lear, his hamartia is division
    of his kingdom and putting his faith in Goneril
    and Regan instead of Cordelia
  • The hero's misfortunate is not wholly deserved.
    The punishment exceeds the crime. As Shakespeare
    puts it more sinned against than sinning.
  • The fall (reversal of fortune peripeteia) is
    not pure loss. There is some increase in
    awareness (anagnorisis), some gain in
    self-knowledge, some discovery on the part of the
    tragic hero. Remember Lear being more
    compassionate, sane and cognizant of his error
    when he says, I am a very foolish fond old
    man,Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor
    lessAnd, to deal plainly,I fear I am not in my
    perfect mind.

The structure of TragedyFreytags Pyramid
Three unities and Shakespeare
  • Suggested first by Aristotle in his poetics and
    later expanded by Italian critics like Lodovico
    Castelvetro and French dramatists like Racine and
    Moliere. The three unities included
  • The unity of action a play should have one main
    action that it follows, with no or few subplots.
    Shakespeare clearly flouted this. Wouldnt you
    agree that Gloucester sub-plot in king Lear
    adds to the grandeur of Lears story
  • The unity of place a play should cover a single
    physical space and should not attempt to compress
    geography, nor should the stage represent more
    than one place. In Antony and Cleopatra , the
    story takes us to Africa and Europe
  • The unity of time the action in a play should
    take place over no more than 24 hours. Be it
    Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet or Othello, we
    scarcely see Shakespeares conformation to this
    unity. His last play The Tempest, however show
    an impeccable compliance of the same.
  • Samuel Johnson in his preface to Shakespeare,
    wrote Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and
    rejected them by design, or deviated from them by
    happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to
    decide, and useless to inquire. We may reasonably
    suppose, that, when he rose to notice, he did not
    want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and
    critics, and that he at last deliberately
    persisted in a practice, which he might have
    begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the
    fable, but unity of action, and as the unities of
    time and place arise evidently from false
    assumptions, and, by circumscribing the extent of
    the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot think it
    much to be lamented, that they were not known by
    him, or not observed Nor, if such another poet
    could arise, should I very vehemently reproach
    him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his
    next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely
    positive, become the comprehensive genius of

Shakespearean tragedy and Elizabethan Stage
reconstructed galleries of the globe
the swan theatre
general appearance of an Elizabethan Theatre
exterior of the modern reproduction of "the globe"
Famous Shakespearean Tragedies King Lear
  • Protagonist Lear
  • Hubris passion and irrationality
  • Hamartia unwise division of kingdom
  • Theme filial ingratitude
  • Antagonist Goneril and Regan
  • Protagonists well wishers Kent, Gloucester,
  • Subplot Gloucesters lack of vision

painting by William Dyce
Famous Shakespearean Tragedies Macbeth
  • Protagonist Macbeth
  • Hubris Inordinate ambition
  • Hamartia killing one person after another to
    assume power
  • Protagonists chief aide lady Macbeth
  • People slain Duncan, Banquo
  • Macbeths Nemesis Macduff
  • Supernatural element witches prophesizing

painting by Henry Fuseli
Heroines in Shakespearean Tragedy In black and
  • Unlike the witty and strong willed heroines of
    Shakespearean comedies, the heroines of his
    Tragedies are often painted in monochromes and
    uni-dimensional in characterization
  • We find ourselves amidst sweet but ineffectual
    Cordelia and Desdemona ambitious and
    unscrupulous lady Macbeth seductive Cleopatra
    noble but lovesick and perhaps star- crossed
    Ophelia and Juliet.

above Ophelia by Alexendre Cabanel below
juliet by John Waterhouse
Other Elements in Shakespearean Tragedy
above ghost of hamlet's father, by henry
fuseli below lady Macbeth's somnambulism by
johann henrichh fuesli
Film adaptations of Shakespearean tragedies.
clockwise, from left above stills from
Kurosawa's "Ran" (king Lear) Vishal Bhardwaj's
"maqbool" Kurosawa's "the bad sleep well"
(Hamlet) Bhardwaj's "omkara" (othello)
Things to be done
  • Compare Shakespearean comedy with Aristotles
    concept of Tragedy. Where does he deviate from
  • Think what makes Shakespeare occupy the foremost
    position in canon of English literature even
  • Compare his tragic heroes with those of
  • Watch the film adaptations based on Shakespeares
    plays and compare them with the stage
  • Make a collage of the book illustrations of
    various Shakespearean plays.
  • Compare the language of Shakespearean characters.
    Do they all speak in the same way? If not,
    elucidate. Can you think of another playwright
    who made his characters use different languages
    or style.
  • Try to think of the play from the point of view
    of the antagonist as in the case of Shylock or
  • Compare Shakespearean heroines like Portia and
    Rosalinde with Cordelia and Ophelia.
  • Find important motifs, symbols and archetypes in
    his tragedies.
  • Find more about Elizabethan audience and the
    changing tastes of the audience during Jacobean
  • Find out more about variation in costumes, set
    designs, props used, theatricality in
    performances of his plays over years.

birthplace of Shakespeare