The Interpretation of Tragedy Through the Decades

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Tragedy plays have always been a massive part of drama’s history and upbringing, since the Grecian times these styles of plays have become a massive influence into many of the famous playwrights work for whom in which we know of today. Most tragedy plays want to prompt their audiences with messages using the theatre, they do this by incorporating the dramatic approach of morality. In The two tragedy plays, Hamlet written by William Shakespeare and The Revengers by Thomas Middleton, they show very clear themes and storylines of a darker themed nature. But why are tragedy plays so important to the theatre’s history?

Although these plays are two differently styled tragedies and were made years apart, they do show some similarities within their context. In this disquisition I am going to explore how tragedy is portrayed and expressed towards the audience and why it is an example of theatre. Theorists can argue the ways in which tragedy is formed and expressed upon the stage. From Aristotle’s point of view, he has expressed that the key reason as to why tragedies are regarded as an example of the theatre is because in his own opinion, it is that tragedy is far more superior than to comedic plays.

Aristotle the Greek philosopher was born in 384BC and was one of the first theorists of tragedy. He was renowned for the ‘poetics’ and for his individual interpretation on as to why in particular, tragedy is a significant form of the theatre. Unlike Diderot for whom in which was born years later on in 1713, Diderot has not only focused on how tragedy is a significant form of the theatre but also focused on ‘character body, the score of the role, and spontaneity. ’ (Roach, 1993, p. 117). Diderot’s thoughts of the form of theatre is very alike to Aristotle’s they both believe that in making any play there always need to be a mythos.

The story lines and journeys through these two plays are both very similar. Unlike the vengeful tragedy that is Hamlet, ‘The Revengers Tragedy’ is not only very dark and has themes such as revenge and murder, it has many comedic moments in which it helps to ease the audience’s viewing. From the blood and gore of this play, there is quite a difference compared to hamlets turmoil and tragic moments and allowing it to have more comedic aspects that Jacobean has to offer.

In the revel’s student edition of the revengers tragedy it talks about many similarities in which the two plays have with each other. Young Hamlets father had just died, while Vindices fiancé has just been killed. This book then goes onto telling about how in ‘both plays a mother supposes she is to be murdered, pretends ignorance of any misdoing on her part, is persuaded to admit her guilt and resolves to live a better life’ (tourneur, 1966)This is stating that these two different characters, for whom in which that were written in different time periods show a parallel to one another. They also show how in every tragedy there needs to be either a death or the protagonist needs to go through in pursuing a goal or goes through an epiphany of some kind.

Right through these two tragedies and from the quote above, it shows why these plays are regarded as an example of tragic theatre. Even though these plays are many year’s apart the revengers tragedy being first performed in 1606 and Hamlet being around 1599-1602, being first performed in 1609. They have many similar contextual ideas incorporated into them, by using the themes of being a revenge tragedy it shows that throughout this period in drama revenge tragedies were not only a very popular genre of theatre. But it also shows that they’re could be a reason as to why it has left a longstanding mark in what we call tragedy today in the 21st century tragic theatre.

The use of the unique wording and the iambic pentameter illustrated in plays, could be a significant reason as to why these two plays are regarded as a form of theatre. The uniqueness of Shakespeare giving the tragedy play of Hamlet and many other of his plays this, allows the actor to know where he or she can pause in moments and or where to establish key emotions in different parts of the speeches. Hamlet and The Revengers show many justifications as to why tragedies such as these are regarded to be an influential mechanism, for engaging with their audience’s and helping to promote these two plays as a basis of tragic theatre. These two tragedies show protagonists for whom have expressed many forms of moral judgements throughout their journeys in the play. In Hamlet he depicts weather to avenge the death of his late father ‘The ghost’ king hamlet.

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He then has a family feud between his uncle king Claudius as he has married young hamlets mother, queen Gertrude. Throughout the play Shakespeare allows the character of Hamlet, to express to the audience his feelings through his soliloquys such as the famous line of ‘to be or not to be that is the question’ in Act three scene one. The use of this dramatic technique of allowing a character to have a soliloquy is that, it helps to heighten the dramatic intention in which Shakespeare wants to portray for the role of hamlet throughout the play, the intention being to express tragedy and inner conflict, towards the audience.

This not only has helped to allow to bring tragedy on stage, but it has also allowed Shakespeare to be remembered for his greatest well-known tragedies and also of being a renowned tragedy esteemed playwright. That has people still wanting to put on his plays many years after his death. Thus, solidifying the fact of why tragedy is still regarded as a form of theatre. By not only establishing morals and moral judgement in situations. But by also allowing the audience to relate to the characters emotions on stage of feeling betrayed or showing the stages of grief.

Hamlet has a battle with his moral judgement, that because of his father’s passing and the recent reveal of Claudius marriage with Gertrude in Act 1 scene ii, in this scene Claudius is giving a speech explaining his marriage with Gertrude. While this scene is panning out, the protagonist Hamlet is grieving his father’s death, and dreading the antagonist’s marriage towards his mother and showing the inner turmoil. Throughout the play Hamlet is lost in his conscience of whether to kill his uncle or not. Shakespeare gives the imagery of hamlet having ‘the clouds still hang upon him’ this gives the impression that it has blinded him of what is rightfully right and wrong in the situation at hand.

However, on the other hand, theorists have speculated as to whether an actor should ‘embody’ the character in which they want to portray. Diderot a famous theorist of drama argued in the ‘Players passion’ shows a very negative detailed response as to whether actors should ‘feel passions on stage’. He argues that the use of ‘extreme sensibility makes middling actors… in complete absence on sensibility is the possibility of a sublime actor’ (Roach, p. 117)Diderot is basically stating that an actor should not put their own emotional disturbance into the craft of their characters.

From my point of view towards this statement above is that, I agree to an extent that you should not use a lot of your own emotional ‘baggage’. Most 21st century actors’ favour in incorporating catharsis into their tragedy acting, but to ‘embody’ the character as in putting myself into their shoes and not trying to bring my own emotional disturbance into character. Of course, some people may disagree with my point of view but since the 17th century of tragic acting many interpretations of how to feel or express emotion on stage has changed. This renowned Shakespearian play that is still performed years on, shows how one’s conscience can be blinded very easily thus when it comes to the terms of emotions in which people feel in a situation. Aristotle’s one definite dramatic appliance, in which he wants to show in his plays is to ‘Arouse pity and fear’ (pathos) towards an audience. (Munteanu, p. 145)

In the Grecian era Tragedy plays they were considered as a sacred form of theatrical art, they were usually used in honour of the god Dionysus the god of wine, fertility and festivals. Tragedy plays in the Grecian era were originally shown through the chorus, as they would represent as the ‘link’ between the audience and the cast who are on stage. They usually represent the towns people or as an outside eye watching in on all the ongoing action that is happening between the main characters. The use of mostly having plays usually be tragic in the Grecian era is because they’re not only very well liked in this time period but they’re also wanting to convey ‘messages’ for the audience. In tragedies they need to consist of these dramatic technique’s such as ‘suffering, morality, inevitability, responsibility. ’(brown, 1995, p. 16) These many descriptions of what tragedy plays in particular should have incorporated into them, has created a foundation for many theorists and practitioners into discovering why these plays are regarded as a form of theatre. As in today’s society, these sorts of themes have been used in 21st century writing and helping to create or ‘arouse pity and fear’ for the audience. (Munteanu, 2011, p. 145) So, using traditional aspects in tragedies has helped to regard tragedy as a form of theatre. By engaging them with either historical and or contextual uses needed; for the structure of a tragedy, and by helping to build a connection between the audience for their characters. What Aristotle wanted to incorporate was his most favoured thing that all tragedies needed which is fable/plot.

In the poetics Aristotle listed key ingredients from the most important to the least important part of making a tragedy the lists are as follows. Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Song, Spectacle. Plot being the most important aspect of tragedy and spectacle being the least important. Although there can be some agreements with the use of incorporating these highlighted focuses into the mythos of the play, the use of the list being in this same order for many other playwrights is open to debate. In the Shakespearian play Hamlet, it was written somewhere between 1599-1602 which is around the final reigns of queen Elizabeth l. This distinguished tragedy is about Hamlet ‘the prince of Denmark’, who goes through a journey of turmoil deciding whether to kill his uncle or not. In Richard Hindery barker’s book ‘Thomas Middleton’ he describes the Revengers tragedy as being a story of a ‘Man who commits a perfect crime and then becomes so pleased with his performance that he gives him-self away.’ (Barker, p. 72)

Barker then goes onto say that the main tragic hero Vindice is ‘ruined by his cleverness or his stupidity, depending on one’s point of view’ (Barker, 1958, p. 72) Barker has stated that, the tragedy behind this character is his actions in which he has caused throughout the play. Actions that have caused him to come across as tragic, which highly shows similarities towards Hamlet as he is showing the exact same characteristics as what we expect a traditional tragic hero or a protagonist of, they play should come across as to the audience.

In conclusion they’re many different interpretations throughout the decades on how different theorists believe to be what tragedy is today. Hamlet and the Revengers are only just a minor small interpretation on how tragedy plays could be panned out. But also showing how they can be interpreted into leaving a ‘message’ with their audiences, using these two tragedies as an example of the theatre. Diderot implying that actors do not need to incorporate their own emotions into a character and Aristotle’s approach on what is the most important aspect of writing a tragedy. The use of these theorists applying they’re own creative thoughts into establishing the matter of why tragedy is regarded as a form of theatre, by breaking down the attributes needed to make a tragedy and to understand the theme of tragedy. Helps to pave the path on why tragedy is regarded as a form of theatre by making the audience engaged in watching the performance and by also allowing the audience to make their own judgements on the different plays.

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