The organization of downfall in Shakespearean tragedy borrows much from that of Greek tragedy. The points of variation between the two forms of the genre are often drawn not in tangible literary differences, but in premise of manner of downfall. One distinction observed between the two dramas is that of the roles of destiny or lack thereof. The disputed definition of hamartia helps explain and expand this. Either type of tragedy can be distinguished by the feature of a hamartia, a tragic flaw and ultimate determinant of a hero’s downfall, as being built on by an unavoidable force or event, as opposed to being directly caused by a hero’s wrongdoings, or vise versa. In order to draw a contrast between the differing roles of the element of determinism in this aspect of tragedy, it is important to examine the prevalence of these types of hamartia and their correlation within Shakespearean tragedy and Greek tragedy. A basic assessment of the classic tragedies Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King will allow a glimpse into these two aspects and their role within each individual drama, and the contrast they draw between the two plays and genres in their definitions of tragedy. The contrary occurrences of fate and an overlying power as opposed to human error and their roles in shaping a hero’s hamartia, as observed and paralleled in Macbeth and Oedipus the King, draw disparity between Shakespearean tragedy and Greek tragedy in their purpose of meaning and genre.
Macbeth, an exemplar of Shakespearean tragedy, features downfall surrounded by the supernatural, but not entirely created by it. The drama otherwise follows a similar pattern of Greek tragedy; in defining Macbeth’s ultimate tragic flaw and cause of his downfall, ...
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...le both focus on the ultimate destruction of man and his downfall, Shakespeare’s lack of religion (Santayana) or divine intervention despite his supernatural elements, and his utilization of character traits and the weakness of man as tragic flaw, provides a different purpose for his tragedy than that of Greek tragedy, which revolves around determinism and a hamartia which is controlled by a greater force. The downfall of Shakespeare’s heroes is the downfall of man due to his poor judgment and character, and his own human mistakes (Bradley), while the downfall of Greek tragic heroes is the downfall of man due to his inevitably being powerless in face of a greater force (Segal). Comparisons of Macbeth to Oedipus the King support the differences in hamartia despite the similar structure of the two forms of tragedy, but also suggest this variation in purpose and theme.
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