Shakespearean Tragedies

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The paradox of tragedy is when the worst comes inevitably even to those who proceed with the best meaning. Titus Adronicus, King Lear, and Timon of Athens are a collection of some Shakespearean tragedies that have survived through the ages because of their content. The society that perceived and attended the theatre at the time each play was written had some influence on how the plays were written or performed in the future. Critics have reviewed and studied all of these plays and many different outcomes have occurred as a result. It has been said that Shakespeare must have had nothing short of some shattering personal experience to explain the sudden change in the mode of his expression when he began writing his tragedies. The most influential writer in all of English literature, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 to a successful middle-class glove-maker, Richard Shakespeare, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Shakespeare attended grammar school, but his education went no further than that. In 1582 he married an older woman, Anne Hathaway, and had three children with her. Around 1590 he left his family behind and traveled to London to work as an actor and playwright. Public and critical success quickly followed, and Shakespeare eventually became the most popular playwright in England and part owner of the Globe Theater. Wealthy and renowned, Shakespeare retired to Stratford and died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two. At the time of Shakespeare's death, literary intellectuals such as Ben Jonson hailed his works as timeless. Shakespeare's works were collected and printed in various editions in the century following his death, and by the early eighteenth century his reputation as the greatest poet ever to write in English was very well established. The dearth of biographical information has left many details of Shakespeare's personal history concealed in mystery. Some people have concluded from this fact and from Shakespeare's reasonable education that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by someone else, Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford are the two most popular candidates. But support for this claim is overwhelmingly uncertain, and many scholars do not take the theory seriously. Shakespeare wrote King Lear around 1605, between Othello and Macbeth, and it is usually ranked with Hamlet as one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. The setting of King Lear is as far removed from Shakespeare's time as the setting of any of his other plays, dramatizing events from the eighth century. But the parallel stories of Lear's and Gloucester's sufferings at the hands of their own children reflect anxieties that would hit close to home for Shakespeare's audience. One possible event that may have influenced this play is a lawsuit that occurred not long before King Lear was written, in which the eldest of three sisters tried to have her elderly father, Sir Brian Annesley, declared insane so that she could take control of his property. Annesley's youngest daughter, Cordell, successfully defended her father against her sister. King Lear demonstrates how vulnerable parents and noblemen are to the theft of immoral children and thus how fragile the fabric of Elizabethan society actually was (Leggatt, 72). When performed, King Lear needs the stage for its full effect. Its most characteristic language is concrete and physical. The tortured body is a recurring image. What was only talked about was then seen on stage. Even a reader can feel the physical horror of the scene in the language: "bind fast his cocky arms"; "Out, vile jelly!" in language and action this is an intensely physical play (III.vii.27, 81). Geographically speaking, Shakespeare imaginatively fits the court and the house, the field, and the plain, in the order but on separate occasions, on stage. This gives the audience a strong sense of the place from which Lear has come and to which he is going. Throughout the play, characters coming from or going toward...
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