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Shakespeare Tragedies

Introducing the Shakespeare Tragedies

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Shakespeare Tragedies: Jude Law as Hamlet

Shakespeare Tragedies: Jude Law as Hamlet

Photo © Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

Shakespeare is perhaps most famous for his tragedies – indeed, many consider Hamlet to be the best play ever written. Other tragedies include Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and King Lear, all of which are immediately recognizable, regularly studied and frequently performed.

Common Features of the Shakespeare Tragedies

The Shakespeare tragedies share a number of common features, as outlined below:

  • The fatal flaw. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are all fundamentally flawed. It is this weakness that ultimately leads to their downfall.

  • The bigger they are, the harder they fall. The Shakespeare tragedies often focus on the fall of a nobleman. By presenting the audience with a man with excessive wealth or power, his eventual downfall fall is all the more tragic.

  • External pressures. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes often fall victim to external pressures. Fate, evil spirits and manipulative characters all play a hand in the hero’s downfall.

All in all, Shakespeare wrote 10 tragedies. However, Shakespeare's plays often overlap in style and there is debate over which plays should be classified as tragedy, comedy and history. For example, Much Ado About Nothing is normally classified as a comedy, but follows many of the tragic conventions.

The 10 plays generally classified as tragedy are as follows:

  1. Antony and Cleopatra
  2. Coriolanus
  3. Hamlet
  4. Julius Caesar
  5. King Lear
  6. Macbeth
  7. Othello
  8. Romeo and Juliet
  9. Timon of Athens
  10. Titus Andronicus
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