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Which are best: Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, or histories? Show more Show less
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Shakespeare's plays are the most famous in the western canon, and are regularly performed both by theatre companies and amateurs. His plays are typically split into three genres: comedies, histories, and tragedies. For many modern audiences, the comedies are the most enduring and enjoyable, but tragedies are widely studied academically, and Hamlet, generally seen as Shakespeare's greatest work, is a tragedy. Histories, dealing often with the lives of kings, are less popular with the public but provide a hugely important historical and historiographical resource, and can often contain both tragic and comedic elements. So, which are the best?

The tragedies are the best Show more Show less

Shakespeare's tragedies use Aristotle's theory of tragedy, featuring a tragic hero with a fatal flaw which causes his downfall. They are enduringly popular, with 'Hamlet' and 'Romeo and Juliet' remaining famous worldwide.
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Shakespeare's understanding of tragedy's structures has changed the way we think of tragic theatre

Before Shakespeare's tragic writing, tragedy was governed by a strict set of Ancient Greek rules regarding place, time and action. His adaptation of those to suit his own needs and his development of multi-layered plots changed the theatrical conventions surrounding tragedy.

Context

Classical unities: an Ancient Greek theory of dramatic tragedy stating that 1. a tragedy should have one principal action (unity of action) 2. the action in a tragedy should occur over a period of no more than 24 hours (unity of time) 3. a tragedy should exist in a single physical location (unity of place)

The Argument

The tragic drama has a unique history. Ancient Greeks developed a vision and style that was unknown in other cultures. Its impressive presence is a homage to Greek culture and the lives of heroic individuals whose status brings upon them suffering and early death. The Greek tragic drama was not accessible to Shakespeare as he had no direct experience of what tragedy meant to the Greeks. That is why he did not have a sense of the potential of the power of tragedy. Shakespeare's tragedies examined an individual's sense of desire in confronting the world on their terms, even at the expense of social bonds or their life. Shakespeare's tragic hero does not answer to any communal system of value. They answer only to themselves. Lear, Macbeth, and Othello are examples of how they act in serving themselves rather than compromising their sanity for someone else.[1] Shakespearean tragedies offer characters, plots, dialogues that were unconventional to the theatre. As of the present moment, Shakespearian plays are recreated, adapted into movies, and considered as an expectation to meet.

Counter arguments

Although Shakespeare's work on adapting traditional structures of tragic theatre to his literary needs was innovative, this is not unique to his tragedies. His comedic plays are also structurally challenging, and unlike ancient comedies, which are often either bawdy or openly political. Shakespeare introduces significant elements of identity, wordplay, and emotional complexity, which weren't often employed before. His tragedies attracted attention because, unlike comedy and history plays, tragedy before Shakespeare had a too rigid and distinct structure to which any alterations were immediately evident. His tragedies gained attention because of his unique characters, wordplay, and emotional complexity, not because of the tragedic element.

Proponents

Premises

1. Before Shakespeare's writing, tragedy was governed by a rigid set of Ancient Greek rules. 2. He altered these rules to allow for complex and varied tragic plays. 3. As a result of these alterations, tragic theatre has since followed in the Shakespearean tradition of depicting a variety of action and places.

Rejecting the premises

1. Shakespeare's comedies and histories also play with structure, introducing complex elements in a similar way to the tragedies. 2. These innovations are perhaps only obvious because tragedy before Shakespeare had a very distinct and rigid structure, whereas comedy and history plays were always more fluid.

References

  1. https://www.siue.edu/~ejoy/eng208NotesOnComedyAndTragedy.htm

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This page was last edited on Saturday, 19 Sep 2020 at 14:18 UTC

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