Mid last year, I wrote about the tragedy genre. I had a brief summation of the elements of tragedy and a list of possible tragic texts. The most well-known tragic texts, however, are the ones written by Shakespeare.
Shakespearean tragedy is something which all English students would have encountered at some point in their school life. For myself, I recall studying Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear. Since then, I’ve also looked at Hamlet and a bit of Julius Caesar. What always struck me as the definitive element of Shakespearean tragedy was the fact that in the last scene, somehow, someway, almost every character would be dead/dying on the floor.
Death seemed the only recourse for Shakespeare.
Yet there are definitely more elements other than death. Although this website provides a 14 dot point summary of the elements of Shakespearean tragedy, here is my summary:
- Tragedy centers around one person – the tragic hero. The tragic hero is often a person of high estate, because:
- Then the tragedy affects the whole nation etc.
- Then the tragedy and suffering is all the more heightened, when contrasted with their prior glory and happiness.
- The tragic hero undergoes a reversal of fortune, which is brought about by their tragic flaw. The flaw somehow contributes to or catalyses the tragedy in which the hero suffers.
- The tragic effect comes about through:
- Exceptional suffering, which culminates in the tragic hero’s death. Not only do they suffer through conflict with others, but through their own internal turmoil. This often manifests through abnormal conditions of the mind (hallucinations, madness etc).
- A sense of waste – the tragic hero is often characterised with such greatness that their downfall highlights the lost potential for future success.
- Bad luck, change and accident – the tragic hero’s plan does not materialise and their actions lead to their own destruction.
- Supernatural elements may be involved.
- David Chandler’s The Essence of Shakespearean Tragedy also provides a brief but insightful look at the paradox represented by Shakespearean tragedy.