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A Consideration Of William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet As A Tragedy

2569 words - 10 pages

A Consideration of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as a Tragedy

William Shakespeare was a playwright and an actor in the sixteenth
century. He wrote a series of sonnets and plays that have become
increasingly popular. Many of his ideas were taken from other writers,
and he transformed them brilliantly. His plays were of many genres,
including a series of tragedies. "Romeo and Juliet" was part of this
series along side other well-known titles such as "Othello" and
"Macbeth". It was based on Arthur Brooke's poem, "The tragicall
historye of Romeus and Juliet". Brooke's version was long and insipid,
but Shakespeare's genius as a language craftsman made it powerfully
vivid.

What makes "Romeo and Juliet" a great tragedy? To know this we must
review the definition of what a tragedy is. The Chambers Twentieth
Century Dictionary identifies it as

"A species of drama in which action and language are elevated and the
catastrophe is usually sad."

On a more basic level, I would define a tragedy as a literary work
that has a serious or sorrowful content, often a combination of events
leads to a disastrous conclusion.

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher; he too made his own study of what
constitutes a tragedy. His analytical treatise, "The Poetics" was
based on the evidence of many Greek plays. He came to the conclusion
that a tragedy must have these characteristics: a tragic hero, and a
harmatia (tragic flaw). For example in "Macbeth" the harmatia was
excessive ambition. He also concluded that a tragedy provokes pity and
fear and that it produces in the spectator a catharsis of these
emotions. In this way a tragedy can be socially useful.

Many Greek playwrights misinterpreted these ideas and declared them as
rules, to base all future tragedies on. They exaggerated his ideas and
this rule was created, that tragedies should observe the three unities
of time, place and action. This meant that the action should span less
than a day, there should only be a single setting, and that there
should be one main character, and one development plot towards the
main event. Any play that did not comply with these rules was not a
true tragedy.

One of Aristotle's ideas that was notoriously misused was his theory
about unity. This theory suggests that the action in a tragedy must be
a complete unit, and that events of which it is made up must be so
plotted that if any of these elements are moved or removed the whole
is altered and upset.

Shakespeare broke these rules over and over again. He used comedy and
subplots throughout his literature to give it a sense of reality, and
to make it more interesting for the spectator. Yet every aspect of
Shakespeare's play contributes to the overall effect, nothing is
carelessly placed. I believe that this is a more sensible
interpretation of...

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