One of the foremost Elizabethan tragedies is Hamlet by William Shakespeare and one of the earliest critics of tragedy is Aristotle. One way to measure Shakespeare’s work is to appraise it using the methods of classical critics and thereby to see how if it would have retained its meaning. Hamlet is one of the most recognizable and most often quoted tragedies in the all of English literature. Aristotle, is concerned with the proper presentation of tragic plays and poetry. Aristotle defines tragedy as:
“…a representation of an action that is worth serious attention,
complete in itself, and of some amplitude; in language enriched by a
variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the
play; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity
and fear bringing about the purgation of such emotion. (Aristotle 38 – 9)
Shakespeare uses character, plot and setting to create a mood of disgust and a theme of
proper revenge, as opposed to fear and pity, hence Aristotle would have disapproved of
Hamlet. It is the above mentioned elements; character, plot and setting, used in a non-
Aristotelian way, that makes Hamlet work as a one of the English language’s most renown
By proper revenge we refer to the Elizabethan view that revenge must be sought in certain cases, for the world to continue properly. This is the main plot of Hamlet. In Poetics, Aristotle defines for us, the element of plot and shows us how he believes it must be put together. He also believes in various unities which he states are necessary for a proper tragedy. Aristotle believes in what he calls “Unity of plot” (Aristotle 42 – 3). This “Unity” leaves no room for subplots, which are crucial to the theme of Hamlet. Without the subplot of Laertes’ revenge and the subplot of Fortinbras’ revenge, we are left with a lugubrious play where the ending, although necessary, is pointless. The three sub-plots together as a unit, allow us to understand what Shakespeare thought of revenge.
Another of the ways Aristotle defines plot in tragedy as “The noble actions and the doings of noble persons”(Aristotle 35). By this definition, Hamlet should be a noble person, who does only noble things.
Essay on Fate and Chance in The Mayor of Casterbridge
Fate and Chance in The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy’s disillusionment over religion was a major theme in both his novels and his poetry. In his mind there was a conflict over whether fate or chance ruled us. He explores this dilemma in the poems “I Look Into My Glass” and “Going and Staying.” Each poem takes a different stance on the matter. It is up to the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge to illuminate which position he ultimately adopts.
The poem “I Look Into My Glass” is similar to “Going and Staying” in many ways. Both poems deal with the effects of time. “I Look Into My Glass” is narrated by a person (I picture a man, although it could really be either) who is very old and looking at his wasted frame in a mirror. The narrator is grieving, not because he is old, but because his heart is still strong and full of feelings. He wishes that his heart had withered like his skin so that he wouln’t have to feel the loss of all his loved ones, the “hearts grown cold to me” he mentions in the poem (ILIMG, line 6). The narrator blames a personification of time for this, saying “Time, to make me grieve,/Part steals, part lets abide” (ILIMG, lines 9, 10). Strength and vitality have been stolen from him while his heart has remained youthful. Emphasis in this poem is on the emotional rather than on the physical because the narrator values his emotions over his physical state. This does not mean that the narrator is indifferent to his condition. Just as much as he wishes his heart could be as frail as his frame, so does he also wish that his frame were a match for his heart. When he says time “shakes this fragile frame at eve/ With the throbbings of noontide” he means that his heart is still throbbing with the desir…
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…ur own fate. Henchard dies friendless and alone not because it was part of God’s plan, but because he cannot see that he operates under his own free will.
Hardy’s loss of faith in his own life is apparent in all of his writing, especially in the poems “I Look Into My Glass” and “Going and Staying” and the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Here he explores his ideas about chance and fate and ultimately comes up with the conviction that each man controls himself. It can be surmised that this was a frightening thought for Hardy since much of his work deals with his disillusionment over religion. Whether Hardy wanted to enlighten the multitudes with his writing, or if he just wanted them to see his suffering and pity him is a question only he can answer.
Hardy, Thomas. The Mayor of Casterbridge. Ed. Phillip Mallett. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.