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Video:Shakespeare: Tragedies

with Milo De Prieto

Shakespeare's tragedies are among the most famous works of literature of all time. Learn about the characteristics of Shakespeare's tragedies with a quick analysis of Romeo and Juliet in this how-to video from About.com.See Transcript

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Transcript:Shakespeare: Tragedies

Hello, I'm Milo for About.com, and today we are talking about Shakespeare's tragedies. 

Characterisitics of Shakespeare's Tragedies

Shakespeare's plays have been classified into three categories, tragedies, comedies and histories. These categories were not created by Shakespeare and they're typically used as a rough guide to study his work. Many times, however, a play can exhibit traits from more than one of these categories. 

Shakespeare started writing tragedies from the very beginning of his career, such as Romeo and Juliet. In his tragedies Shakespeare presents his audience with a main character who is generally powerful and wealthy but who is flawed somehow. This makes his downfall all the more tragic. This character is, of course, capable of doing good and evil but a weakness is what, in the end, brings him to his doom. In addition to their flaw, these tragic heroes are always led to a dark end by a combination of external forces, falling victims to evil spirits or manipulative characters. 

The following traits exemplify Shakespeare's tragedies:

  • The play is generally a 5 act play where many if not all the main characters die.
  • The main character is always presented with a hopeful solution but fails and tragedy falls upon him.
  • We find that many times Shakespeare uses abnormal conditions of the mind in his characters, for example insanity or hallucinations.
  • In the plays there are not only outward conflicts between people and groups but there is also an inward conflict within the main character. 
  • The subject matter of Shakespeare's tragedies deal with concepts such as defeat, disappointment, broken dreams, lost hopes, and inevitably death. 
  • Moral statements tend to be pronounced in Shakespeare's tragedies, see the end of Romeo and Juliet
  • Some form of evil is responsible for the problems, suffering, and death.
  • Shakespeare presents the audience with an evil and shows through the plot that it is negative, destructive, isolating, and chaotic. 

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet may be Shakespeare's best known tragedy. It is a story about two young lovers who die as a consequence of a series of poor decisions, communal strife, and misunderstandings. In this tragic story each one of them is led to believe the other one is dead and they commit suicide.

This story's heroes are brought to their deaths by forces outside of their control such as misfortune, conflict, bad communication, and deception. The “flawed hero” characteristic of Shakespearean tragedies is clearly illustrated in Romeo and Juliet with Romeo. He is flawed in that he makes a series of bad decisions that unleash the events that bring him and Juliet to their deaths. As a wealthy and noble young man Romeo's fall is that much more tragic. 

For more excellent and helpful information on Shakespeare's work, world, and influence check us out at About.com.

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