Shakespearean Tragedies

Titus Andronicus , Titus (film) , William Shakespeare

  • School: CJMC
  • Course: english
  • Professor: Robin


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...
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 the town of Dover would pass through an upstage opening to stage
right. Critics believe that Shakespeare's separation of places into three broad areas deepens the audience's
understanding, for example, Lear's madness, which overwhelms him (Hills, 11).
Lear, the aging king of Britain, decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three
daughters. First, however, he puts his daughters through a test, asking each to tell him how much she loves him.
Lear's older daughters give their father flattering answers. But Cordelia, Lear's youngest and favorite daughter,
remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and
disowns Cordelia. Unable to believe that his beloved daughters are betraying him, Lear slowly goes insane.
Meanwhile, an elderly nobleman named Gloucester also experiences family problems. His illegitimate son, Edmund,
tricks him into believing that his legitimate son, Edgar, is trying to kill him.
Lear's basic flaw at the beginning of the play is that he values appearances above reality. He wants to be treated as a
king and to enjoy the title, but he doesn't want to fulfill a king's obligations of governing for the good of his subjects.
Similarly, his test of his daughters demonstrates that he values a flattering public display of love over real love. He
doesn't ask them, "which of you doth love us most," but rather, "which of you shall we say doth love us most?"
(I.i.49). It seems that Lear is simply blind to the truth, but Cordelia is already his favorite daughter at the beginning
of the play, so presumably he knows that she loves him the most (Leggatt, 19).
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