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Renaissance Tragedy: Characteristics of Endings

Amongst the various definitions of tragedy, the a single most generally proffered is: a play that treats – at the most uncompromising level – human suffering, or pathos, with death becoming the usual conclusion. According to Aristotle’s Poetics, the purpose of tragedy is to show how humans are at the mercy of fate, and to cleanse the audience by provoking extreme feelings of pity and terror. The tragic actions on the dramatic stage lead to the audience to knowledge these extreme feelings that ultimately causes a catharsis or release of these feelings, to decrease these passions to a healthful, balanced proportion.

Even so, the application of this definition to Renaissance tragedy is limited as it makes two more than-reaching assumptions about the play, its protagonists and the audience. First, that the death of all protagonists contributing towards the drama is tragic to an equal degree, which prompts an equal level of catharsis in the audience. Does the self-bought death of one particular simultaneously learned and overly ambitious Faustus solicit the same quantity of catharsis and empathy as do the ‘unnecessary’ deaths of Cordelia, Gloucester, Lear, the Duke of Castile, Horatio, and Isabel amongst a host of other innocent characters whose corpses litter the sets of King Lear and The Spanish Tragedy? One particular is left with a terrifying uncertainty – though the iniquitous die, the very good die along with them. Second, and maybe most important, that catharsis would pour forth in the audience if the play’s dnouement – meaningful or not – contains fatal twists, surprise deaths and wide-scale massacre. Or in other words, though the play could itself might have physically ended, the repercussions of the deaths, its implied message on human fate and deeper unresolved, psychological concerns that had plagued the protagonists’ minds continue to problems audiences extended soon after they have left the theatres.

The deaths of Lear and Cordelia in King Lear confront us like a raw, fresh wound when our each and every instinct calls for healing and reconciliation. This dilemma, in addition, is as significantly one of philosophic order as of dramatic effect. In what sort of universe, we ask ourselves, can wasteful death comply with suffering and torture? If characters such as Lear, Gloucester, and Edmund all go by way of a process of awakening, why then do they die? Even Iago, in spite of all his evil machinations, lives on to bear the fruit of his crimes. In other Shakespearean tragedies, such as Othello and Hamlet, the play ends with the reconciliation of the tragic hero and society. When Othello pleads “Speak of me as I am. Absolutely nothing extenuate, /Nor set down aught in malice,” like Hamlet and Cleopatra he seeks immortality in his reputation and in his story. It is a final attempt to reconcile himself with society and his misdeeds, moments ahead of he stabs himself.

In Romeo and Juliet, there is a feeling of hope in the final scene simply because the Houses of Montague and Capulet are lastly at peace with each other, and will erect monuments in remembrance of the two lovers. Peace and understanding is gained from the tragedy. But in The Spanish Tragedy the only monument we see is that of a pile of dead bodies slumped behind a curtain. It is difficult at the end, for the audience to feel no matter whether anything has been gained other than a sense of remorse and misery.

In a Christian framework, even the worst deed can be forgiven via the redemptive energy of Christ. Hence, even so terrible Faustus’ pact with Lucifer may be, the possibility of redemption is always open to him. But each time the play delivers moments in which Faustus can decide on to repent, he decides to remain loyal to Lucifer rather than seek heaven. “Christ did call the thief upon the cross,” he comforts himself, referring to the New Testament story of the thief who was crucified alongside Jesus Christ, repented for his sins, and was promised a place in paradise. That he compares himself to this figure shows that Faustus assumes he can wait until the last moment and still escape hell. In other words, he wants to renounce Mephistopheles, but not just but. One can easily anticipate that his willingness to delay will prove fatal. Only at the finish of his life does Faustus need to repent, and, in the final scene, he cries out to Christ to redeem him. But it is also late for him to repent. In making this moment in which Faustus is nevertheless alive but incapable of being redeemed, Marlowe methods outdoors the Christian worldview in order to maximize the dramatic power of the final scene. Getting inhabited a Christian globe for the whole play, Faustus spends his final moments in a slightly various universe, where redemption is no longer achievable and where specific sins can no longer be forgiven.

The effect of inhabiting such an unforgiving universe prior to his death is however ameliorated in later versions of the text. The ending of the Medical doctor Faustus B text is vastly distinct to that of the A text. The latter simply ends with Faustus getting dragged away by the devils, and a summarising epilogue. Absolutely nothing is revealed to the audience of what eventually becomes of his physique. The B Text however is slightly more re-assuring. Regardless of his self-aggrandisement, wavering, “hair-splitting, and sophomoric misquotations of the Scriptures,” Faustus gets a sympathetic ear to listen to his agonized confession of his pact with Lucifer, and subsequently “a due burial” from the scholars. His scattered limbs are gathered by the scholars, who guarantee him a burial in accordance with Christian rights, “though Faustus’ end be such.” Unlike Don Andreas in The Spanish Tragedy, correct burial rites will buy Faustus a ride in Charon’s boat across the Styx to Hades. King Lear’s death, in comparison, breaks all dramatic conventions. It is maybe a single of the couple of tragedies in which the tragic hero dies irreconciled and indifferent to society.

The final two acts of King Lear are constructed with a series of advances and repudiations of visions of hope. By picking to set King Lear in a pre-Christian era, markedly before Christ’s redemption, Shakespeare does not allow one particular the comfort of realizing that all evil, nevertheless undesirable, can be overcome. Nature appears to be mocking Edgar’s confidence in justice, when he sees his brutally blinded father right away right after claiming that “the worst is not / So lengthy as we can say ‘this is the worst.”

In Hamlet, a play equally wrenched by a self-consuming family quarrel, Horatio bears witness to the ensuing tragedy. In the closing scene, he volunteers to go outside and narrate to the world the misfortunes that have befallen this as soon as noble family. He will reveal all the “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts” as properly as the “accidental judgements” and “casual slaughters” so that guys may understand from their errors. Hamlet’s audience is hence awarded with some release soon after this gut-wrenching tragedy. The globe will be informed that Hamlet was a just man. But what will the globe believe of Lear? Albeit a symbolic act, no one will tell his story, and in a way, purge oneself of additional adversity. Hence, a sturdy sense of guilt and remorse, what in truth ought to have been the burden of the remaining characters, is rather passed onto the audience to bear.

But that does not appear to be taking place in King Lear, The Spanish Tragedy or Medical professional Faustus. Not a single methods forward to supply any words of closure or possibly a glimpse of optimism. Kyd’s choice to literally give Revenge the last word in his play reflects the thematic message of the final scenes of The Spanish Tragedy: revenge does have the final word, crowding out mercy and all other human emotions, in search of its inexorable satisfaction in an overdose bloodshed and violence. The final scene implies that Hieronimo’s action serves as the fulfillment of justice, but the blood, waste, and carnage of the penultimate scene performs against this presumption, seeming to deny the possibility of justice in a planet where the machinations of class and energy determine the course of men’s lives.

In King Lear, Edgar just gives, “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” Even though sensible, his comment is untimely for indeed had this maxim been observed by every person and not just by Cordelia and Kent, maybe the tragedy could have been averted. It is maybe for these motives that Tolstoy refers to the plot of King Lear to be “stupid, verbose, unnatural, unintelligible, bombastic, vulgar, tedious, and complete of amazing events, ‘wild ravings’, ‘mirthless jokes’, anachronisms, irrelevancies, obscenities, worn-out stage conventions and other faults each moral and aesthetic. ” This could nicely have been a view shared by Nahum Tate which made him revert closer to Shakespeare’s sources, in terms of the denouement.

Texts such as Holinshed’s Chronicles, which Shakespeare had at his elbow when he wrote his history-plays, finish in the reconciliation of a father whom submits his daughters to a ‘love-test’. Shakespeare’s choice as a result, to finish the play in such ghoulish bloodshed can be seen as a clear try to point out the weakness of humankind, and the evil it is capable of. In King Lear, Shakespeare does not merely adapt his sources, he consciously makes a violent and shocking alteration to them. He converts the folk-tales of medieval literature into a more complex account, where every little thing is obfuscated and questionable, in a manner comparable to the denouement itself. (Hieronimo is at least partly aware, and fast to exploit the inability of audiences to comprehend such huge-scale tragedies when he chooses to execute his play in a medley of foreign languages, the impact of which Balthazar rightly notes, “…this will be a mere confusion/ And hardly shall we be all understood.” )

The deaths in Hamlet are curiously unrelated to the demands of the Ghost. And the latter, as opposed to tradition, does not return to haunt the stage at the end to revel in the deaths not in the dubiously-gained revenge. Hamlet’s selection not to kill Claudius is certainly a thoughtful mistake, a missed chance that would not only have ended the play in significantly less than half the time, preventing the deaths of so numerous individuals, but would have also earned him his revenge rightfully. Whilst Hieronimo proceeds to his final rendezvous in as an agent of death in a deliberate manner (“And princes, now behold Hieronimo, /Author and actor in this tragedy.”). Hamlet practically stumbles on his final ideal opportunity to kill Claudius as a consequence of a duel with Laertes and different plots of poison that he knew absolutely nothing of previously, so that his final act of killing is virtually knee-jerk and prompted by self-defence rather than planned approach.

Unlike in Hamlet, in The Spanish Tragedy the choric Don Andreas is quick to take centre-stage and revel in the carnage. With only the promise of an afterlife presided over by Pluto and Proserpina, the denouement has nakedly pagan overtones and no sign of completeness. Not only was Don Andreas capable to destroy the lives of his enemies whilst they had been living, but also soon after they are dead. In a frenzy of blood-lust, he demands and gets the authority to provide everlasting judgement for his rivals. Right here, there is no end to the incessant pain – the revenge, and as a result the play, continues to perpetuity. Lorenzo has been confined eternally on Ixion’s wheel Castile is to have his liver perpetually torn at by vultures, and Balthazar is to be hung about Chimaera’s neck.

Hieronimo acknowledges the tragedian’s ‘faked endings’ when he notes:

To die these days, for fashioning our scene,

The death of Ajax, or some Roman peer,

And in a minute starting up once again,

Revive to please tomorrow’s audience.

Although a tragedy suggests a specific irreversible finality in the catastrophic events of the play – an irrevocability that is integral to the audience feeling the catharsis – at the finish of the day, it is merely and subversively, a play. Dead actors rise up once far more, wipe off the pig’s blood, and reappear on stage again the following day. In true terms, for the audience, it possibly wasn’t such a ‘tragic end’ soon after all.

Several critics have not just disapproved of the deaths of Lear and Cordelia, but have also expressed concerns with the implausibility in the plot. Among the host of ‘dramatic defects’ that Bradley points out in King Lear, the 1 that remains the most jarring of them all is Edmund’s lengthy delay in telling of his ‘writ’ on the lives of Cordelia and Lear even soon after he is mortally wounded and has nothing at all to achieve. Stemming from it is however the greatest war on the senses. Albany’s most unbelievable forgetfulness (“Great issue of us forgot”) is widely observed by critics as the greatest injustice in the play. For the “loving son of Albany” (who is soon also to take up the rein of energy in Britain) to overlook, albeit in the midst of Goneril and Regan’s deaths, the safety of the unwell King and Cordelia, is inexplicable. If we are to remind ourselves of Albany’s prior information of Edmund’s diabolical capabilities and the latter’s arrest “on capital treason,” then to recommend that Albany did not suspect Lear and Cordelia’s lives to be in danger, tends to make his forgetfulness seem even far more implausible.

Renaissance dramatists explore the limits of human justice and leave us with doubts about any other type of justice. One could really feel that the denouements with their varying degrees of penalties are not really fair, even though all sinners have been punished. Goneril, Regan, Balthazar, Lorenzo and their collaborators are as dead as Macbeth or Richard III, but so are Cordelia and Bel-imperia, and with them, innocence and hope for the future. No quantity of slain villains can alleviate the accumulated devastation. Maybe Horatio’s fate ought to have been greater than that of a low-life such as Pedringano, and maybe Goneril and Regan ought to have remained alive in order to witness a satisfied reunion between Lear and Cordelia. In illustrating this unpredictable hand of justice, each human and divine, the dramatists illustrate the worst characteristics of mankind at function, and in carrying out so, invite 1 to react and stay uncomfortable towards any suggestion of a resolution.


Bevington, D. and Rasmussen, E.: Introduction to the OUP edition of Christopher Marlowe: Physician Faustus and Other Plays

Bevington, D: Introduction to the MUP edition of The Spanish Tragedy

Bradbrook, M.C. Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy

Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy

Foakes, R.A. Introduction to the Arden Shakespeare Edition of King Lear

Mack, Maynard Actors and Redactors (1965)

Mangan, Michael A preface to Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Orwell, George Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool (1950)

Stampfer, J.C The Catharsis of King Lear
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