Shakespearean Tragedy

The Shakespearean tragedy has a predictable pattern: It centers around the life of a hero, who is always
someone of great standing, someone exceptional and unusual. There is a reverse of fortune and the hero
falls from the position of man who has everything to a man who has less than nothing. The hero is always
portrayed in the hyperbole and everything is in a grand scale. When he sacrifices he sacrifices everything
and his reach always exceeds his grasp. This exaggeration contributes to the sense of tragedy. It raises the
hero above humanity. Yet, we can find similarities between the hero and ourselves which makes it easier
for us to sympathize with him.

A Shakespearean tragedy usually begins with a mirror scene, or a foreshadowing of what will occur. It is
followed by three stages. The hero is then set up so the tragedy can begin. The second phase contains the
conflict, crisis and fall of the hero. Then comes his journeys- a spiritual change in hero insight
reconciliation and recognition.

In all his tragedies Shakespeare has a "voice of reason", a foil, a voice who is sometimes used as a contrast
to hero and at other times underlines the hero’s extremity. Shakespeare uses these opposing voices and
characters for many reasons. Superficially, contrast on stage is what makes a play, it supplies variety and
make it more pleasant to the eye and ear. Another reason for these opposing voices is that the calm
normalness, the voice of reason, the talk of everyday life of the foil, makes the hero’s world and words that
much more dramatic and exciting.

Shakespearean tragedies evoke feelings of pity and awakens terror when the conspicuous powerful hero
falls so low. The pity and terror is evoked by the hero himself. It is not diminished by being divided
between other characters. We sympathize with the hero who seems to be the plaything of some
inexplicable power. The hero is one sided, and it seems that he has a predisposition to the direction in
which he is headed. He goes after what he wants single mindedly, heedless of any danger, inspiring in us
awe and terror. Shakespeare’s heroes are not always good but they possess an unique greatness that makes
up for the lack of goodness. What makes it a tragedy is that his greatness is his downfall.

Shakespearean tragedy touches on the unknown. There is a mystery of waste, why so much potential is
thrown away. There is an overwhelming feeling of blindness and helplessness in the Hero, when he
accomplishes that which he least desires- his own destruction.


The foreshadowing of Macbeth occurs in a scene between Duncan and Macbeth. Duncan speaks of the
traitor Cawdor who Macbeth has killed , he says that "there is not art in finding a minds construction in the
face". He sighs this while talking to the new Cawdor, the traitor to be.

The mirror scene in Macbeth occurs in the opening scene, the witches anticipate much to come, with there
"foul is fair" and the battle "is lost and won". Macbeth is then delineated and thus begins the tragedy.
When Macbeth meets the witches they greet him as "Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and "king
hereafter." Macbeth is already Thane of Glanis and is surprised when two messengers from the king greet
him as the new Thane of Cawdor, fulfilling the witches prophecy- in part. Here the seed is sown for his
destructive ambitions. Macbeth momentarily entertains the idea of killing the king and so begins the
ultimate prediction of the witches on the heath. Lady Macbeth, his foil, encourages Macbeth and vows that
the king "must be provided for"

The second phase containing the conflict, crisis and falling action is ready to begin. Macbeth, the hero is a
brave and courageous man. His courage is what makes him a great general and fearless soldier. When
Lady Macbeth dares him to the kill the king it his courage that forces him to accept her challenge. Macbeth
is a decent, gentle man. Lady Macbeth knows this and fears that Macbeth is "too full of milk of human
kindness" to see the murder of Duncan through. Macbeth feels conflicting emotions about killing the king.
He struggles against his terrible ambitions, and