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"Tragedy" - what is it?

Shakespeare's tragedies do not fit a neat definition. However, they do share some characteristics. The lead character(s) - the protagonist(s) - have powerful feelings, and focus entirely on one single aspect of their lives which they pursue to their own destruction. In this pursuit, they become isolated from most or all of their family, friends and society. Many characters die, and the leading characters die near the end of the play. (While some would say these characters have a "tragic flaw", I think that is an awkward and limiting view of Shakespeare's tragic protagonists, and probably also a misreading of Aristotle's Poetics from which the concept supposedly arises. It is certain Aristotle never saw a Shakespeare tragedy, and it is likely Shakespeare never read Aristotle's Poetics.)


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Copyright 2002 Dana Spradley, Publisher, for shakespeare.com