William Shakespeare started writing tragedies because he thought the tragic plots used by other English writers were lacking artistic purpose and form. He used the fall of a notable person as the main focus in his tragedies. Suspense and climax were an added attraction for the audience. His work was extraordinary in that it was not of the norm for the time. A reader with even little knowledge of his work would recognize one of the tragedies as a work of Shakespeare.
A hero today is seen as a person who is idolized. Nowadays, a hero does not have to have wealth or certain political beliefs, but instead can be regarded as a hero for his/her actions and inner strength. However, in the plays of Shakespeare, the tragic hero is always a noble man who enjoys some status and prosperity in society but possesses some moral weakness or flaw which leads to his downfall. External circumstances such as fate also play a part in the hero’s fall. Evil agents often act upon the hero and the forces of good, causing the hero to make wrong decisions. Innocent people always feel the fall in tragedies, as well.
The four most famous Shakespeare tragedies are King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth.
William Shakespeare’s plays come in many forms. There are histories, tragedies, comedies and tragicomedies. Among the most popular are the comedies which are full of laughter, irony, satire and wordplay.
Many times the question is asked: what makes a play a comedy instead of a tragedy? Comedies treat subjects lightly, meaning that they don’t treat seriously such things as love. Shakespeare’s comedies often use puns, metaphors and insults to provoke ‘thoughtful laughter’. The action is often strained by artificiality, especially elaborate and contrived endings. Disguises and mistaken identities are often very common.
The plot is very important in Shakespeare’s comedies. It is often very convoluted, twisted and confusing, and extremely hard to follow. Other character- istics of Shakespearean comedy are the themes of love and friendship, played within a courtly society. Songs – often sung by a jester or a fool, parallel the events of the plot. Foil and stock characters are often inserted into the storyline.
Love provides the main ingredient. If the lovers are unmarried when the play opens, they either have not met or there is some obstacle to their relationship. Examples of these obstacles are familiar to every reader of Shakespeare: the slanderous tongues which nearly wreck love in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’; the father insistent upon his daughter marrying his choice, as in ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’; or the expulsion of the rightful Duke’s daughter in ‘As You Like It’.
Shakespeare uses many predictable patterns in his plays. The hero rarely appears in the opening lines; however, we hear about him from other characters. He often does not normally make an entrance for at least a few lines into the play, if not a whole scene. The hero is also virtuous and strong but always possesses a character flaw.
In the comedy itself, Shakespeare assumes that we know the basic plot and he jumps right into it with little or no explanation. Foreshadowing and foreboding are put in the play early and can be heard throughout the drama. All Shakespearean comedies have five acts. The climax of the play is always during the third act.
Shakespearean comedies also contain a wide variety of characters. Shakespeare often introduces a character and then discards him, never to be seen again during the play. Shakespeare’s female leads are usually described as petite and often assume male disguises. Often, foul weather parallels the emotional state of the characters. The audience is often informed of events before the characters and when a future meeting is to take place it usually doesn’t happen immediately. Character names are often clues to their roles and personalities, such as Malvolio from ‘Twelfth Night’ and Bottom in ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’.
Many themes are repeated throughout Shakespeare’s comedies. One theme is the never-ending struggle between the forces of good and evil. Another theme is that love has profound effects and that people often hide behind false faces.
The comedies themselves can be sub-categorised as tragicomedies, romantic comedies, comedies of justice and simple entertaining comedies with good wholesome fun.