The present value of Shakespeare’s tragedies stems from their refusal to resolve the contradiction between justified desires and their unjustifiable suppression: the heartbreaking contradiction between what men and women could be, and what time and place condemn them to become, in spite of the superior selves and fuller lives struggling within them for realisation. Shakespearean tragedy is organised by its awareness of alternative potential; it demonstrates that what happens in these plays results from a specific constellation of conditions and pressures, and thus that human lives could take quite different paths under other conceivable circumstances. It is the conditional, contestable nature of the plight that grinds down the protagonists, regardless of merit or their capacity to live otherwise, that defines the tragic quality of the drama.
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