BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Tragedies

William Shakespeare’s tragic plays are some of the best known.  Almost everyone has encountered one or another at some point – either in school or, far more likely, in popular culture.

Or, maybe if you’re a weirdo, you had your Barbies® act out Romeo and Juliet as a kid.  Or so I’ve heard some people have done.  Maybe.

I could go on for thousands of words, read thousands of scholarly articles, & not scratch the surface of the depths in Shakespeare’s tragedies.  Whether the author intended those depths, or readers found support for unintended viewpoints,we’ll never know. 

Also, every scholar & reader brings to these plays their own unique experience.  The constantly changing cultural climate means these discussions may never end.

So, I’m not going to try & plumb the depths of these plays.  I’ll stay in the shallow end,where most of the tragic plays share common traits:

  • The main character is often sympathetic
  • They have a tragic flaw that ultimate leads to their downfall
  • Usually, the main character is a rich or noble person, making their downfall more significant
  • Ends in death (Shakespeare was the original George R.R. Martin; seriously, don’t get attached to anyone in a Shakespeare tragedy)

I think my “favorites” list for the tragic plays are some of the most popular & well known:

  • Romeo and Juliet – My Dad likes to argue that Romeo and Juliet isn’t technically a tragedy,since the main characters don’t have any discernable tragic flaws.  However, some have argued that Romeo & Juliet’s impulsive behavior in meeting Juliet & Romeo’s brow-beating Friar Lawrence into marrying them could be considered flawed behavior.  Also, it hardly fits into any other category.  Romeo and Juliet has some of the most iconic speeches.  If someone doesn’t know at least the famous balcony scene, I’d worry about the state of education from wherever that person comes. I think one of my biggest pet peeves in the entire world is people who believe “wherefore art thou Romeo”means “where are you Romeo.”  It doesn’t; it means “why are you called Romeo.”  I can’t stand that nonsense!  The following lines, “deny thy father and refuse thy name, or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet” make no sense if she’s asking “where” he is.
  • Macbeth– Ah, the famous 3 witches scene.  One of my favorites!  They also throw in some social commentary, where the witches talk about cursing a woman who refused to give them charity.  During Shakespeare’s time, they made it illegal for anyone to “use magic” if refused charity – even if something unrelated tragically happened to the person, an impoverished person could be found responsible if they “cursed” them.  Macbeth’s fatal flaw was his ambition; with a little prodding from the witches & his wife, he kills his King &friend, raises an army & fights to legitimize his usurpation of the throne.  His wife seems the “manlier” of the couple, but she can’t stomach the bloody massacre she helps orchestrate.  There’s a lot for me to pick apart in this play & I can hardly contain a fraction of it here!
  • Hamlet,Prince of Denmark – One of my favorite lines, when Polonius asks him what he’s reading, is when Hamlet says, “Words, words, words.”  I thought that was witty as heck.  Hamlet’s fatal flaw, in most experts’ opinions, is his indecisiveness.  He has a chance to murder Claudius, his father’s brother, who killed his father & married his mother, but Hamlet hesitates.  He’s alternately loving & cruel to both his mother & Ophelia (his love interest).  Hamlet’s most iconic speech, “To be or not to be,” supports the argument that he’s indecisive; that it ultimately leads to his downfall is proven when he – & EVERYONE – dies at the end.
  • Othello,the Moor of Venice – This is another play that’s beautifully problematic.  The main character,Othello, is a “Moor.”  This could mean anything,from him being from Morocco to Africa.  This is the only Shakespeare play with a person of color in the title role, & the first positive portrayal of a person of color in any of Shakespeare’s plays.  Othello is a distinguished general & war hero, who marries Desdemona, the Caucasian daughter of a local senator.  So, there are many of the racial & interracial couple stereotypes thrown about by supporting characters, even though the couple doesn’t display any of them.  They seem truly happy.  Unfortunately, Othello’s tragic flaw is his jealousy & the ease with which Iago can convince him his wife was unfaithful.

Having written all that out, I realize that I could present most of these fatal flaws as “deadly sins.”  Then again, that’s one of the great things about Shakespeare – for almost any theory or opinion, you can find support for the argument.

Honorable mentions: King Lear, Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare wrote a whopping thirteen tragedies, including Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which wasn’t included in the original compilation of his writings:

  • Troilus and Cressida
  • Timon of Athens
  • Coriolanus
  • Julius Caesar
  • Anthony and Cleopatra
  • Cymbeline
  • Titus Andronicus
  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre
  • King Lear
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  • Othello, the Moor of Venice

Yay!  We’re almost done!  Next, we’ll discuss William Shakespeare’s vast body of poetry.

13 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Tragedies”

  1. If it makes you feel any better, my brother and me used to re-enact Jurassic Park (especially the Lost World after I bought a Barbie camper van) on mum’s dining room table. He had dinosaurs and I had barbies and we both that the best thing to do with those two things was have the dinosaurs eat all the barbies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. It does make me feel a little better. Mine is a bit nerdier, but I wear that proudly nowadays anyway.

      Jurassic Park scared the snot outta me the first time I saw it! We had to drive home through a state-maintained nature reservation – winding roads, lots of trees, very little traffic at that time of night. Plus, my Dad was a jerk & kept asking if we saw any T-rexs looming over the treeline. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ha ha ha it didn’t scare me, I’m not sure about my brother, though. (It wasn’t until I was in uni that I suddenly realised my brother disappeared a lot in scary movies …. particularly when someone was about to die. I would always shout, ‘You’re about to miss the best part!’ but I’d be too eager about everyone dying to put something so simple together for so many years. I used to buy him scary movies because he’d always watch them with me. It took me years to realise he never really liked them, he just liked that I’d go out to the video store and rent a bunch of movies with my work money (he was still in HS) and that I wanted to spend time with him, I think. I have the best brother.

        OMG every time we see water move we’re like ‘Oh no T-rex!’ and cause we lived on 300 acres, we had trees that formed a similar ridge to one on JP.

        We also re-enacted Dante’s Peak in the sand pit with my brother’s cars and we’d build up a volcano and then kill everyone.

        I’d like to say these aren’t psychotic tendencies, they’re based on my dad’s lack of judgement to what was appropriate to small children. (In his defence, before we watched Dante’s Peak and I was like five or six, so fuck knows how young poor Charlie was, he thought if he played the ‘making of’ first, we’d understand it was fake, and I think that wasn’t the problem. I think we knew it was fake, but still also thought a volcano erupting and killing people was still scary.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Awww. Your brother sounds really sweet. He just wanted to spend time with you!

        I’ll admit: I’ve never seen Dante’s Peak. Then again, there are many movies I haven’t seen. I even have a list (I got it from the Internet somewhere lol) of “Movies Everyone Should See” so I can try & make sure I see the “classics.” I’ve also never seen Casablanca, A Christmas Story, nor The Graduate, among many, many others. 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      3. He does! He is the best!

        Well, I’ve only seen Casablanca on that list, which actually is a really good movie, but I haven’t seen the others, and I don’t plan to. I don’t mind Dante’s Peak but I wouldn’t put it on a list that “Everyone Should See”. Certain things go on that list, like The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction, not crap.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. To be honest, the list is super long. I’m not sure exactly what is on it! (I had to open the Word document & pick some semi-popular movie names to even make the list I wrote in my last comment. 😄 )

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ha ha ha ha that’s pretty fair enough!! We used to live out of town, so we rarely got to see movies. It wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I had the opportunity to regularly go to Blockbuster (I feel so old now), and it was just so exciting. I think I loved movies because they were a special treat, and now I’ve seen pretty much everything because I was a kind in a candy shop in Blockbuster for two years, ya know?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Oh yeah, I get it. I don’t know why, but I never got super “into” movies. I guess I feel like I don’t want to sit around for 2 hours most of the time.

        Although, I did see Mary Poppins Returns on Wednesday & I can’t recommend it enough! It’s so good! Plus, I love Lin-Manuel Miranda something fierce! 😍 😍 😍

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Ugh I would hate seeing Mary Poppins! I hate musicals! Yeah, I’m not going to lie, I’ve definitely gone off movies, but I’ve seen a lot because of that time period. Other than my obsession with horror/thrillers, I only like what I see as “clever” shows/movies. If I’m going to be watching something, I want it to be good, you know? Otherwise it’s just wasteful.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Oh dear. I love musicals. Like, a lot. I was raised on musical theater, Hamilton is my go-to gym jam, I even have the “theater masks” (representative of the Greek muses of comedy & tragedy) tattooed on my shoulder.

        Oh well, we’ll just have to avoid the topic of music, I suppose!

        Mary Poppins Returns was awesome, regardless. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I was raised the opposite. We watched Die Hard, and things like the Wizard of Oz were forbidden. (Not really, but I also found I hated them, too.)

        Liked by 1 person

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