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Of the Dramatic Similarities in Shakespeare’s Four Great Tragedies

Author ChengYing
Tutor ShiZhiKang
School Shanghai International Studies University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Shakespeare Four Great Tragedies Dramatic Similarities
Type Master's thesis
Year 2010
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William Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564-died 23 April 1616), an English poet and playwright, has been widely acknowledged as the greatest writer in the English literature and the world’s preeminent dramatist. His surviving works, especially his famous Four Great Tragedies have exerted profound influence upon the cultures of both western and eastern societies. Also, Shakespeare’s work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of plot, characterization, language, and genre.Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays revolved around mainly comedies and histories by the end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, Othello and Macbeth, considered some of the finest pieces of work in the English literature. In his last phase, he composed tragicomedies, also known as romances, in collaboration with other playwrights. Composed in Shakespeare’s prime time, his Four Great Tragedies, constantly studied, performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultures and political contexts throughout the world, have put his ingenious performance of words on the pedestal of artistry and sophistication. It is without doubt that they are worthy of scrutiny and sobering contemplation.As it is mentioned before, this thesis endeavors to probe into Shakespeare’s Four Great Tragedies in terms of dramatic similarities displayed in their plot, characterization, dramatic devices and themes to make a lateral comparison in-between. The whole thesis altogether consists of five chapters, indicating the following:(1) Shakespeare has a quite unique view upon the definition and interpretation of tragedy, which are totally different from his ancestor in literature composition and exploration;(2) The beatific beginning, the decaying fall and the final candlelight-like catharsis, three major stages having been manifested in the plot of Four Great Tragedies apart from the introduction and final conclusion;(3) Both major characters and minor characters enhance the total dramatic atmosphere and effects greatly, and at the same time having some similar elements, which really calls for concern; (4) Context analysis explored to show five widely-used dramatic devices; they are, hyperbole, imagery, metaphor, supernatural, elements and symbol;(5) The final aim of the study is to delve into the themes of Four Great Tragedies from two contradictory angles: the exaltation of love and the deprecation of vice. Based on findings and discussion, tentative conclusions are drawn and, the limitations of this study are also pointed out for further research in the last chapter.It is truly hoped that the exploration of this thesis will incur a better understanding of values implicit in Shakespeare’s four masterpieces.

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