Can We Define the Nature of Shakespearean Tragedy?


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

To attempt a definition of the nature of Shakespearean tragedy, one need not assume that Shakespeare theorized about tragedy the way Jonson theorized about comedy. One need assume only that Shakespeare was a skilled as well as inspired dramatist, one who consciously refined his artistic techniques and who had, from the start, a conception of tragic drama which he sought to realize in his plays, a conception which altered and evolved as his artistic vision and powers matured. He obviously did not pay much attention to the pronouncements of contemporary literary theorists, and he had no single authoritative model in tragedy which he might be tempted to imitate. The turgid academic tragedies of his contemporaries did not interest him, and he did not learn much from formless historical-tragical- comical plays like Cambyses which took their somewhat muddled idea of tragedy from The Mirror for Magistrates and de casibus tales. Although he was impressed and influenced by the poetic and dramatic power of plays like Tamburlaine and The Spanish Tragedy, he charted his own individual course in tragedy, and we can attempt to describe that artistic progress even as we can attempt to describe his progress in the writing of comedies and history plays.

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