Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare: New Edition
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partly religious. Brutus seems at once to contradict himself, when the prospect of being a captive at Rome, hooted by the mob – the republic, in his person, disgraced as well as defeated –, comes into his mind. Suicide is then his unhesitating decision. Othello too kills himself to avoid public shame, but also as an act of repentance and of leave-taking from Desdemona. When the blinded Gloucester wants to put an end to his life, Edgar takes elaborate pains, in the grotesque scene on the cliff,
between institutions and individuals, something that no stereotyped homilies, calls for acceptance of ready-made doctrines, could achieve. Shakespeare’s picture of the feudal spirit found room for a lavish magnificence, a careless indifference to cramping prudence. Many heads had to be chopped off in Europe before this could be curbed. Warlike qualities bred by it were needed now for new purposes, but they had to be brought under control and tempered by civil law. Even a soldier as admirable as
uncongenial husband (who may not have been her choice) by having him murdered, and to poison her sister and rival in love. In a less malignant way Cleopatra is just as indifferent to textbook morality, which after all has been drawn up by men, largely in their own interests. Jacobean moralists were much given to warning husbands against being led astray by their wives (Watson 88). Macbeth is the prime example here, but Coriolanus, more pardonably, has been led astray since infancy by his mother.
with the sentinels; but it is two months before he presents himself to his old friend and lately fellow-student the prince. When others prove hollow, Hamlet pays a warm tribute to Horatio as the single person he can still have faith in, and tells us that they have been companions ever since he came to years of discretion (III.ii.56 ff.; cf. III.i.57–8). Horatio has remained poor, a proof perhaps of disinterestedness; what Hamlet admires most in him is his stoic ability to bear good fortune and
Much of what can seem puzzling in the play must be due to its author having to follow history, which he could not always explain, and which he often readjusted but seldom knowingly falsified. Underlying this is the fact that his tragic world lies between an old social and moral order and a newer one; bewilderments over right and wrong, uncertainties of duty, are inescapable. Old and New are clothed in the guise of East and West; as always, Shakespeare is both appreciative and critical of each.