Shakespeare's Tragedies: And Other Studies in Seventeenth Century Drama

Shakespeare's Tragedies: And Other Studies in Seventeenth Century Drama

Shakespeare's Tragedies: And Other Studies in Seventeenth Century Drama

Shakespeare's Tragedies: And Other Studies in Seventeenth Century Drama

Excerpt

The gulf between the learned use and the popular use of the same word is nowhere better illustrated than in 'tragedy'. The term is used from day to day in referring to incidents of a distressful nature, and, in so far as it is popularly used as the name of a literary type, it is applied to any play or story with an unhappy ending. This is unfortunate, for the widespread vague use of the term makes it more difficult for students to clarify their ideas on the significance of King Lear and the Agamemnon : if our labels are smudged, we are forced to make a continual effort to remind ourselves of the contents of each package. Yet here we cannot blame the journalist for the blurring of the word's meaning, for the vague use of 'tragedy' goes back to medieval times. Moreover, even those who have aimed at using the word precisely have not reached agreement concerning the nature of the literary type to which the word is, by them, applied.

The most famous definition of tragedy in medieval times is given by Chaucer in the Prologue to The Monk's Tale :

Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn storie,
As olde bokes maken us memorie,
Of him that stood in greet prosperitie
And is y-fallen out of heigh degree
Into miserie, and endeth wrecchedly.

He adds that tragedies are commonly written in hexameters, but that 'many oon' has been written in prose as . . .

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