Shakespearean Tragedy by A.C. BradleyA.C. Bradley put Shakespeare on the map for generations of readers and students for whom the plays might not otherwise have become real at all writes John Bayley in his foreword to this edition of Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth.
Approaching the tragedies as drama, wondering about their characters as he might have wondered about people in novels or in life, Bradley is one of the most liberating in the line of distinguished Shakespeare critics. His acute yet undogmatic and almost conversational critical method has—despite fluctuations in fashion—remained enduringly popular and influential. For, as John Bayley observes, these lectures give us a true and exhilarating sense of the tragedies joining up with life, with all our lives; leading us into a perspective of possibilities that stretch forward and back in time, and in our total awareness of things.
One of the main features of Renaissance art is that it was inspired by classical art and philosophy. Focusing on the human form during Mediaeval times would have been impossible as it would have been a distraction from the necessary focus on God. The result was a new realism in the representation of human beings in art. That he could, in one play, Othello, written four hundred years ago, represent what we can recognise as a modern psychopath and a modern alcoholic, in Iago and Cassio respectively, is incredible. Iago is a fully realised physochological character just as the David is a fully realized man physically. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, defined tragedy and asserted that it was the noblest and most serious, dignified and important form of drama.
Troilus and Cressida , on the other hand, despite being advertised in an earlier edition as a first-rate comedy, is also entitled a tragedy in the First Folio, but not listed at all in the Catalogue and placed ambiguously — as befits its unclassifiable nature — between the histories and the tragedies. The more one ponders the question of what qualifies as a Shakespearean tragedy , the more complicated it can become. And the temptation to boil them all down to the same generic formula should obviously be resisted. But it would be equally misguided to rule out the possibility of identifying what the tragedies have in common without dissolving the differences between them. The detailed answer that question demands is beyond the scope of this brief introduction. During the last four centuries the play has inspired countless adaptations and offshoots on stage and screen, as well as operas, symphonies, fiction, poetry and paintings.
When we use the word tragedy to describe a Shakespearean play, we are referring to its designation in the First Folio, but more importantly, we mean that the play fits a set of dramatic conventions established by the ancient Greeks. This mistake causes suffering for the character and chaos for his community. In King Lear , Lear gives his kingdom to the wrong heirs. By the time he realizes his mistake many characters are dead, and Lear dies of grief. The mistake that the hero makes is called a hamartia. Hamartia comes from a Greek word that can be translated as to err, or to miss the mark.
What Is a Shakespearean Tragedy?
Shakespeare is perhaps most famous for his tragedies—indeed, many consider " Hamlet " to be the best play ever written. Other tragedies include " Romeo and Juliet ," " Macbeth " and "King Lear," all of which are immediately recognizable, regularly studied, and frequently performed. In all, Shakespeare wrote 10 tragedies. However, Shakespeare's plays often overlap in style and there is debate over which plays should be classified as tragedy, comedy, and history. In Shakespeare's tragedies , the main protagonist generally has a flaw that leads to his downfall. There are both internal and external struggles and often a bit of the supernatural thrown in for good measure and tension. Often there are passages or characters that have the job of lightening the mood comic relief , but the overall tone of the piece is quite serious.