Shakespearean tragedy

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Shakespearean Tragedy is the classification of drama written by William Shakespeare which has a noble protagonist, who is flawed in some way, placed in a stressful heightened situation and ends with a fatal conclusion.[1] Shakespeare wrote several different classifications of plays throughout his career and the labeling of his plays into these classifications is disputed amongst different sources and scholars. There are 10 Shakespeare plays which are always classified as tragedies and several others which are disputed; there are also Shakespeare plays which fall into the classifications of comedy, history, or romance/tragicomedy that share fundamental attributes of a Shakespeare tragedy but do not wholly fit in to the category.[2] The plays which provide the strongest fundamental examples of the genre of Shakespearean tragedy are Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra.[2]

Shakespeare's First Folio behind glass at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C.

Qualifiers and Classification of Shakespearean tragedy[edit]

The qualifiers or defining characteristics of Shakespearean tragedy are outlined in this section. The primary characters in a Shakespearean tragedy are of high status, either by class like King Lear and Hamlet or by military rank like Othello and Macbeth. The title character(s) along with many other characters in Shakespeare's tragedies die as part of the story of the play. Many of Shakespeare's history plays share the qualifiers of a Shakespearean tragedy, but because they are based on real figures throughout the History of England, they were classified as 'histories' in the first folio. The Roman tragedies; Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus were also based on historical figures, but because their source stories were foreign and ancient they are almost always classified as tragedies rather than histories. Shakespeare's Romance plays which were written late in his career and published originally under either tragedy or comedy share some elements of tragedy featuring a high status central character but end happily like Shakespearean comedies. Several hundred years after Shakespeare's death, scholar F.S. Boas also coined a fifth category, Shakespearean problem play, for plays that don't fit neatly into a single classification because of their subject matter, setting, or ending.[3] The classifications of certain Shakespeare plays are still debated among scholars. Below are some example elements found in Shakespeare's tragedies:

  • A greater emphasis on characters than situations (this makes times when characters experience misfortune make the audience to still find it sad)
  • Young lovers failing to overcome difficulty, often presented by elders (not present in all Shakespearean tragedies)
  • Separation
  • Truthfullness of characters
  • Urban element
  • A reverse of fortune
  • Sad ending

Chronology of Shakespeare's tragedies [4][edit]

Influences and source stories[edit]

Elizabethan tragedy, Shakespeare's contemporaries[edit]


  1. ^ Boyce, Charles (1990). Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Roundtable P. pp. 6652–653. ISBN 0-8160-1805-7. 
  2. ^ a b |last1=Boyce
  3. ^ Murray, John (1910). Shakespeare and his Predecessors (Third Impression ed.). pp. 344–408. 
  4. ^ Brockett, Oscar; Hildy, Franklin J. (2007). History of the Theatre (Foundation Edition ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. p. 109. ISBN 0-205-47360-1. 


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

  1. ^ Boyce, Charles (1990). Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Roundtable Press. 
  2. ^ Brockett, Oscar G.; Hildy, Franklin J. (2007). History of Theatre (Foundation ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 
  3. ^ Bryson, Bill (2007). Shakespeare: the world as stage. New York: HarperCollins. 
  4. ^ Dunton-Downer, Leslie; Riding, Alan. (2004). Essential Shakespeare Handbook. New York: DK. 
  5. ^ Foakes, R.A. ed. (2002). King Lear. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Thompson Learning. 
  6. ^ Greenbalt, Stephen (1997). Comedies. The Norton Shakespeare based on the Oxford ed. New York: W.W. Norton &Co. 
  7. ^ Hoy, Cyrus, ed (1992). Hamlet. Norton ciritical ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 
  8. ^ The Illustrated Library Shakespeare. Bath: Robert Frederick, Ltd. 2004. 
  9. ^ Jamieson, Lee. "Shakespeare Tragedies". Retrieved 2014-10-04. 
  10. ^ McEachern, Claire, ed (2013). The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 
  11. ^ Mowat, Barbara A.; Werstine, Paul eds (2013). The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Folger Shakespeare Library. New York: Washington P. 
  12. ^ Murray, John (1910). Shakespeare and his Predecessors.