The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare's Tragedies

Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear

Comic elements in Shakespeare's tragedies have often been noted, but while most critics have tended to concentrate on humorous interludes or on a single play, Susan Snyder seeks a more comprehensive understanding of how Shakespeare used the conventions, structures, and assumptions of comedy in his tragic writing. Les mer
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Comic elements in Shakespeare's tragedies have often been noted, but while most critics have tended to concentrate on humorous interludes or on a single play, Susan Snyder seeks a more comprehensive understanding of how Shakespeare used the conventions, structures, and assumptions of comedy in his tragic writing. She argues that Shakespeare's early mastery of romantic comedy deeply influenced his tragedies both in dramaturgy and in the expression and development of his tragic vision. From this perspective she sheds new light on Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.
The author shows Shakespeare's tragic vision evolving as he moves through three possibilities: comedy and tragedy functioning first as polar opposites, later as two sides of the same coin, and finally as two elements in a single compound.
In the four plays examined here, Professor Snyder finds that traditional comic structures and assumptions operate in several ways to shape the tragedy: they set up expectations which when proven false reinforce the movement into tragic inevitability; they underline tragic awareness by a pointed irrelevance; they establish a point of departure for tragedy when comedy's happy assumptions reveal their paradoxical "shadow" side; and they become part of the tragedy itself when the comic elements threaten the tragic hero with insignificance and absurdity.
Susan Snyder is Professor of English at Swarthmore College.

Originally published in 1979.

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