Elements of Aristotelian Tragedy Depicted in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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An Aristotelian tragedy includes many different characteristics. It is a cause-and-effect chain and it contains the elements of catharsis, which is pity and fear, and hamartia, which is the tragic flaw embedded in the main characters. The famous play Romeo and Juliet, written by William Shakespeare, is about two lovers of two different families who hate each other and the misdemeanors they have to surpass. Many debate on whether it is an Aristotelian tragedy or simply tragic. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet should be regarded as an Aristotelian tragedy because catharsis is exhibited in the play, Juliet’s blindness of love is shown, and Romeo’s impetuousness is the tragic flaw that leads to his demise.

Catharsis is shown throughout the play in many different ways, making it an Aristotelian tragedy. To begin, the audience feels the purging of catharsis directly after Romeo delivers his soliloquy in Act I, scene iv: “I fear, too early; for my mind misgives/Some consequence yet hanging in the stars/Shall bitterly begin his fearful date” (I, iv, 106-108). This soliloquy leaves the audience with fearful anticipation of coming events and how they will affect Romeo later on in the play. Another example of catharsis is exemplified when the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet, meet for the first time. As Juliet says, “My only love, sprung from my only hate!” (I, v, 137) the audience feels extreme pity due to the fact that they know that these two people, who love each other, cannot be together because they are enemies. Yet, the reader wants them to be together, but know that it is impossible because of the blistering hatred of these two families. Aristotle explains that “tragedy arouses the emotions of pity and fear in order to purge away their e...

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...does not follow through with her responsibilities. Lastly, Romeo is impetuous in many different senses throughout the play, such as his sense of love, pride, and actions. Ultimately, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is forever considered to be a true Aristotelian tragedy.

Works Cited

Kerschen, Lois. “Criticism.” Drama for Students. Vol. 21. Ed. Anne Marie Hacht. Detroit: Gale, 2005. 258-261.

McManus, Barbara F. “Outline of Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy in the Poetics.” CLS267: Greek Tragedy. November 1999. College of New Rochelle. 19 May 2010. .

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes. Ed. Kate Kinsella, et al. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002. 770-874.

Thrasher, Thomas. Understanding Romeo and Juliet. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001.