Elizabethan Drama

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Characteristics of Elizabethan Drama
From Elizabethan Drama. Janet Spens. London: Metheun & Co.

Of the three types of plays recognized in the Shakespeare First Folio -- Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies -- the last has been the most discussed annd is clearest in outline.

1. Tragedy must end in some tremendous catastrophe involving in Elizabethan practice the death of the principal character.

2. The catastrophe must not be the result of mere accident, but must be brought about by some essential trait in the character of the hero acting either directly or through its effect on other persons.

3. The hero must nevertheless have in him something which outweighs his defects and interests us in him so that we care for his fate more than for anything else in the play. The problem then is, why should a picture of the misfortunes of some one in whom we are thus interested afford us any satisfaction? No final answer has yet been found. Aristotle said that the spectacle by rousing in us pity and fear purges us of these emotions, and this remains the best explanation. Just as a great calamity sweeps from our minds the petty irritations of our common life, so the flood of esthetic emotion lifts us above them.

In the drama of Marlowe the satisfaction appears to depend, not on the excitement of the catastrophe, but on the assertion of the greatness of man's spirit; and this seems to have been the theme also of Senecan tragedy. It will be remembered that the first part of Tamburlaine ends, not in his death, but in his triumph, and yet we feel that the peculiar note of tragedy has been struck. We have the true tragic sense of liberation. Kyd also asserted the independence of the spirit of man, if he is prepared to face pain and death.

It is really much more difficult than is always recognized to be sure what constituted Shakespeare's view of the tragic satisfaction or even that he believed in it. It is possibly true that Lear is a better man at the end of the...
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