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Posted on June 9th, 2012, by

In his Poetics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle used the term hamartia to explain that feature of the tragic hero which leads to his or her downfall. We have come to define the word as “tragic flaw,” and we use it to mean a fatal weakness or error in judgment that propels a character to a tragic end. As an example, we might point to Euripides’ The Bacchae and the unwillingness of King Pentheus to recognize the power of the god Dionysus. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, too, suffer from such flaws, as Hamlet explains: …that these men, Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star, His virtues else, be they as pure as grace, As infinite […]

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Posted on June 9th, 2012, by

No theme of Shakespeare’s resounds more powerfully with modern audiences than his treatment of war. At first glance, he may seem to glorify the experience, for in several works, monumental battles provide a dramatic conclusion. Shakespeare, however, never romanticizes the reality of warfare. Indeed, he emphasizes the barbarism of this ever-present aspect of existence. To be sure, he presents individuals who perform bravely in combat, but these exploits never supersede the images of brutality and death that are intrinsic to this most horrible of human enterprises. One way in which the playwright communicates the madness of war is through the structure of the plot. For Shakespeare, warfare represented the breakdown of the social order, and he portrays this chaos in […]

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