Renaissance Tragedy And Investigator Heroes Essay

2457 words - 10 pages

Renaissance Tragedy and Investigator Heroes

The role of the investigator in Renaissance tragedy, with special reference to Shakespeare's Hamlet and Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy

I therefore will by circumstances try, What I can gather to confirm this writ
Hieronimo The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King
Hamlet

The roots of the blossoming tree of crime fiction can be traced back to the ancient soil of The Bible, and beyond, in literature which contains mysteries to be solved, and figures who act as detectives. Mystery was present in Classical Greek tragedy. In Oedipus Rex (c. 429 bc) the identity of Oedipus is a mystery, the unravelling of which influences the movement of the plot. In fact the very term 'anagnorisis' indicates a discovery - a revealing of a mystery.

In the biblical era perhaps one of the earliest acts of 'detection' took place when Herod killed all new-born babies on one particular night in an attempt to eliminate the child prophesied to ruin him. We have other examples of detection prior to Christ too; the prophets, such as Daniel, could interpret dreams. This was detection in the sense that they had to interpret symbolic images to understand their significance. In that sense the prophets could be called 'investigators'. But these dreams were very often interpreted in a visionary state of mind, therefore detection in the strictest sense of the term cannot be used here.

We have detection in the 12th century German epic Nibelungenlied as well where Hagen, the minister of Brunhild's revenge coaxes the secret of the vulnerable spot in Siegfried's body from Kriemhild.

In Romantic fiction we see for the first time in European literature, a systematic use of mystery in plotting. As A. H. Clewer stated in his essay Modern Crime Fiction [1], 'the early whodunit approach is perhaps related to mysteries of identity in Romantic fiction. For example, in Scott's Ivanhoe the identity of the Black Knight is mysterious, and its eventual revelation forms an important element in the plot. Keats uses a similar gambit in his tragedy Otho The Great (1819) presumably influenced by Scott.

But the role of the investigator that we find in the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe and others probably entered into the realm of fiction through Voltaire's Zadig (1748). As John Drinkwater observed in The Outline of Literature [2] 'Zadig was a Sherlock Holmes born before his time.' [See excerpt in Appendix]. If Voltaire had been born after Conan Doyle 'Zadig' might have been taken as a parody of the great detective who resided in Baker Street.

In Elizabethan drama the plot tends to move forward in complex ways, but without any element of the mysterious. There are no actual mysteries in Shakespeare's plots, however complex they are. But although there is no real mystery in the tragedies of Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, the figure of the investigator features prominently....

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