Elements of Shakespearean Tragedies: Greatest Achievements of Dramatic Artistry

"I hope you agree that, in studying a Shakespearian drama, we must...do our best to understand, exactly what Shakespeare's dramatic purposes are, before we even begin to explore how the play came to be constructed."-
Dover Wilson (1881 - 1969)

The Hero though they introduce a long list of dramatic personae, Shakespeare’s tragedies are ultimately concerned with only one character – the hero – whose fortunes are its real theme. Shakespeare’s heroes are among the most powerful studies of human nature in all literature and appropriately stand as the greatest achievements of his dramatic artistry. The other characters, though sufficiently interesting in themselves, serve only to provide the links in the story of his fate. 

William Shakespeare
It is not without significance that all the four chief tragedies are named after the principal figure. In the love – tragedies, Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra, a pair of lovers – the hero and the heroine – dominate the action, and appropriately give their names to the play. None of the four tragedies we have chosen has love for its theme. Their theme is, rather, hatred and revenge, jealousy and suspicion, envy and ingratitude, ambition and intrigue. Most of the Heroes, Shakespeare’s tragic hero is not an ordinary mortal. He is not a superman, like the hero in a play of Marlowe’s but his rank of gifts raise him above the characters, and what happens to him is of public importance. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, Lear is King of Britain, and Macbeth and Othello, when we first meet them, are distinguished soldiers. 

Shakespeare’s tragic hero is a man of many noble qualities with one flaw that causes his ruin. Hamlet has ‘the courtier’s soldier’s scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,’ but he suffers from an indecision that is in the end disastrous. Othello is a ‘noble and valiant general’, whom the ‘full senate of Venice call all-in-all sufficient’, but he is a slave to jealousy. Macbeth is ‘a peerless kinsman’, ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’, but he is possessed of ‘black and deep desires’ that lead him to destruction. Lear is ‘every inch a king’; it is his violent temper and lack of judgment that prove his undoing. It is true that Macbeth was egged on to his crimes by his wife, and that Iago worked upon Othello, but the fatal in their characters was there in the first place. 

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