The importance and influence of imagination on the creation and critique of literature varies between and within various artistic eras. Originally seen as an aberrant function of the mind, imagination was subservient to the powers of reason and order. Art involved mere replication of the real, a craft rather than an unique act of creation. Beginning as early as Aristotle, however, human imagination has been linked to the power and value of art. The ascendancy and, in some eras even superiority, of imagination as a potent mental faculty gave birth to new critical enterprises bent on articulating the manner, motivation, and merit embedded in art and the artistic process. By tracing the development of this basic literary concept, it may not be possible to discover a coherent and universal idea of imagination that has evolved throughout history. However, such an inquiry could lead to a better understanding of how the ideas and attitudes about imagination from one age enter into an informative and influential dialogue with others. From the rational and pragmatic critics of the Enlightenment to the expressive and Romantic critics of the Nineteenth Century, we can begin to formulate a synthetic rather than absolute understanding of imagination.
Though Aristotle first created room for imagination by expanding the expressions of a poet from the actual to the possible “in accordance with the laws of probability or necessity”, it was not until much later that the capacity and power of imagination was adequately explored. Imagination was seen as a turbulent, unpredictable, but potentially beneficial force which must be refined and kept within the bounds of reason to pragmatic critic…
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… each definition of imagination we have discussed struggles to be independent while simultaneously remaining intertwined to the preceding critical traditions.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Bibliographia Literaria” The
Critical Tradition. Ed., David H. Richter, New York:
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Hume David. “Of the Standard Taste” The Critical
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Johnson, Samuel. “Rambler, No. 4” The Critical Tradition.
Ed., David H. Richter, New York: St. Martin’s Press,
—. “Rasselas, Chapter 10” The Critical Tradition. Ed.,
David H. Richter, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry” The Critical
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The Character Flaws of Macbeth
The Character Flaws of Macbeth
Since The Tragedy of Macbeth was written there has been speculation about the cause of Macbeth’s downfall. Readers ponder whether Macbeth’s fall was caused by a flaw in his character, Lady Macbeth, or an outside force of evil. Although the witches set a certain mood and Lady Macbeth exerts a certain influence on him, Macbeth’s downfall is caused by his own character.
Macbeth’s tragic flaw in character was the paradoxical pairing of his ambition with his passivity. Throughout the play we see many examples of Macbeth’s conflict between his ambition to attain the crown and his passive attitude towards the actions that are required to obtain it. Macbeth’s ambition is first illustrated in his susceptibility to the idea of becoming king, introduced by the witch’s prophecies. When the witches greet Macbeth by saying, “All hail, Macbeth! That shall be king hereafter” ( I, iii, 50)
Banquo observes that Macbeth seems “rapt” (I, iii, 58) and Macbeth says, “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more?say from whence you owe this strange intelligence??.Speak, I charge you” (71-79). As scholar A. C Bradley observes, “The words of the witches are fatal to [Macbeth] only because there is in him something which leaps into light at the sound of them” ( 289). However, this ambitious attitude soon changes to passivity when he realizes the grave actions that are required of him. The contrast between Macbeth’s ambition and his passivity-caused by reluctance to do evil-is depicted clearly by his actions and thoughts that occur before he murders Duncan. Macbeth focuses on “the deterrent, not the incentives”; he is plagued by the “spectral bloody dagger” rather than the though…
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…o Macbeth, they point to the unfolding of his evil. He was ambitious enough to want to be king but not shrewd enough to have thought through the eventual consequences of his conniving.
Although there were many contributing factors to Macbeth’s downfall, the primary cause was his own character flaw. His internal contradiction between ambition and passivity allowed him to become susceptible to the witches’ prophecies and Lady Macbeth’s wickedness and eventually led to his downfall and death.
Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. Fawcett Publications: Greenwich, Conn., 1965.
Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Oxford University Press: London, 1964.
Stoll, Elmer Edgar. “Source and Motive in Macbeth and Othello.” Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Oxford University Press: New York, 1961, 282-93.