Dissertation
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Death in the Four Major Tragedies of William Shakespeare

Author XingLiJun
Tutor LinYuanFu
School Fujian Normal University
Course Comparative Literature and World Literature
Keywords Shakespeare tragedy death image theme time
CLC
Type Master's thesis
Year 2009
Downloads 288
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With an investigation into the treatment of death addressed in Shakespeare’s four major tragedies, i.e. Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth, the thesis explores the multiple images and typologies of deaths, as well as their thematic, cultural and philosophical implications. By sustained textual analysis, this paper argues that the age of Shakespeare was obsessed with issues of death; death affected life, social values and social actions of all people. The issue of death and the issue of life is the same one, fear of death and carpe diem are the two sides of this topic.The thesis consists of four chapters. Chapter One "Introduction" introduces the purpose, value, goals and approach of research in this thesis. Chapter Two offers a brief overview of the conception of death in European tradition and the way it affects Shakespeare’s representation of these heterogeneous, miscellaneous, and seemly conflicting concepts of death, especially Shakespeare’s inheritance of the Christian concept of death and his use of relevant imagery. Chapter Three probes into death per se in Shakespeare’s four major tragedies as is shown in Hamlet’s philosophical speculations on life and death, in King Lear’s insight into the essential nature of man, in Macbeth’s revelation of the tranquility of the after-life world, and Othello’s efforts to purge of his sins via death, death in Shakespeare’s tragedies assume different meanings. Both Hamlet and Othello are inclined to commit suicide, whereas in their rejection of the suicidal impulses, both Macbeth and King Lear crave for a noble death, for Edgar, though, life is full of beautiful potentials. Shakespeare also reveals different response to death from people of different sexes and social strata. For Regan and Goneril, death means a severe punishment, whereas for Ophellia, Lady Macbeth, and King Lear, death offers an avenue to free them of the existential plight and suffering; it is a means of purgation and salvation; Death for Desdemona and Cordelia may have been a deplorable mistake, but for Hamlet and King Lear, it is an actualization and accomplishment of life. Chapter Four approaches to Shakespeare tragedies caused the current debates. In Shakespearean tragedies, deaths vary clearly from one to another. Most protagonists of Shakespeare’s tragedies lead to death. Death becomes the ultimate price he/she pays for his/her understanding of life and of the world.

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