The Tragic Hero and the Tragic Story in William Shakespeare's Writing

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The Tragic Hero and the Tragic Story in William Shakespeare's Writing Shakespeare's tragedies are, for the most part, stories of one person, the "hero," or at most two, to include the "heroine." Only the Love Tragedies (Romeo and Juliet; Antony and Cleopatra)are exceptions to this pattern. In these plays, the heroine is as much at the center of action as the hero. The rest of the tragedies, including Macbeth, have single stars, so the tragic story is concerned primarily with oneperson. THE TRAGIC HERO ANDTHE TRAGIC "STORY" * The tragic story leads up to, and includes, the death of the hero * The suffering and calamity are exceptional * They befall a conspicuous person * They are themselves of a striking kind * They are, as a rule, unexpected * They are, as a rule, contrasted with previous happiness and/or glory On the one hand (whatever may be true of tragedies elsewhere), no play that ends with the hero alive is, in the full Shakespearean sense, a tragedy. On the other hand, the story also depicts the troubled part of the hero's life which precedes and leads up to his death. It is, in fact, essentially a tale of suffering and calamity, conducting the hero to death. Shakespeare's tragic heroes will be men of rank, and the calamities that befall them will be unusual and exceptionally disastrous in themselves. The hero falls unexpectedly from a high place, a place of glory, or honor, or joy, and as a consequence, we feel that kind of awe at the depths to which he is suddenly plunged. Thus, the catastrophe will be of monumental prop... ... middle of paper ... ...erful, advancing, scattering the opposition until, late in the 4th act, when a reversal of the situation starts taking place. Opposing forces begin to openly resist and to make plans for the removal of the tragic hero, and the hero's power is obviously declining as the opposition's power advances. TRAGIC RESOLUTION In the final acts, then, the opposition reaches its full strength and defeats/destroys the isolated, weakened hero. This is where Tragic Recognition takes place, and the final scenes of the play are normally such that we become aware again of the greatness of the soul that has just been dispatched. Macbeth is dead; Hamlet is dead; Lear is dead: and though we can see the justice of it, the usual feeling of satisfaction at the death of a tyrant or killer (an Iago, for example) is conspicuously lacking.

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