Shakespeare’s Tragedies: A Very Short Introduction


WOOCS 2.1.9


Stanley Wells

Very Short Introductions

  • Analyses nine of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, including Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra
  • Considers Shakespeare’s tragedies in the context of their own time, exploring the influence of contemporary literary and dramatic conventions, and also audience expectations
  • Discusses why grief, pain, misery, and suffering should be regarded as fit subjects for entertainment, and for presentation in playhouses to which people go to enjoy themselves

Tragedy, including grief, pain and suffering, is a common theme in Shakespeare’s plays, often leading to the death of at least one character, if not several. Yet such themes can also be found in Shakespearian plays which are classed as comedies, or histories. What is it which makes a Shakespearian tragedy, and what dramatic themes and conventions did the bard draw upon when writing them?

In this Very Short Introduction Stanley Wells considers what is meant by the word ‘tragedy’, and discusses nine of Shakespeare’s iconic tragic plays. He explores how the early definitions and theoretical discussions of the concept of tragedy in Shakespeare’s time would have influenced these plays, along with the literary influence of Seneca. Wells also considers Shakespeare’s uses of the word ‘tragedy’ itself, analysing whether he had any overall concept of the genre in relation to the drama, and looking at the ways in which the theatrical conventions of his time shaped his plays, such as the use of boy players in women’s roles and the physical structures of the playhouses. Offering a critical analysis of each of the nine plays in turn, Wells concludes by discussing why tragedy is regarded as fit subject for entertainment, and what it is about tragic plays that audiences find so enjoyable.

About the series: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

Table of Contents
1: Tragedy in Shakespeare’s time
2: Titus Andronicus
3: Tragedies of English history
4: Romeo and Juliet
5: Julius Caesar
6: Hamlet
7: Othello
8: Macbeth
9: King Lear
10: Timon of Athens
11: Coriolanus
12: Antony and Cleopatra
13: Why do we enjoy tragedy?
Further Reading

Additional information




Oxford University Press

Publication date

27 April 2017